A woman seeking treatment for an ear injury from a New Jersey hospital in October 2016 was charged $5,751 for her treatment—even though that treatment only consisted of an ice pack and a bandage, according to an ongoing investigation by Vox into hospital emergency room billing.
The woman, Jessica Pell, had fainted and hit her head on a table, slicing her ear in the process.
“I decided to decline treatment because I can’t really afford any surprise bills right now,” she said. “The bill I’d probably incur would not be worth saving my ear, which was sad but a choice I had to make.”
Still, months later, she received a bill from the hospital for her treatment—a bill for $5,751. “It’s for the ice pack and the bandage,” Pell said. “That is the only tangible thing they could bill me for.”
Pell’s insurance provider, Cigna, estimated that the bill was 4,453 percent above what Medicare would have paid for such an ice pack-bandage treatment, which would be roughly $129. But Cigna used a third-party company to estimate a “reasonable and appropriate” price for the services and agreed to cover $862 of the bill. That left Pell to pay the remainder.
Pell pushed back on the hospital’s bill, to no avail. But the hospital ultimately zeroed out her bill and refunded her the $100 co-payment she made at the time of the visit after a Vox reporter began asking questions.
Though everything worked out in the end for Pell, Vox reports that many other patients are receiving steep ER bills—even if they don’t receive treatment.