Entries in Costs (6)


Parents Deal with the High Cost of Food Allergies

Tooga/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Having a child with a food allergy can not only be tough on the child, it can be expensive for the parents.
The cost of a food allergy in an average American child is more than $4,000 a year, according to a new survey from Northwestern University in Chicago.
What's surprising is that most of that cost is not from direct medical care, but in money lost by parents taking care of their allergic child.
Researchers say that having to change jobs, or take part-time work in order to provide proper care, cost parents an average of $2,400 a year.  Many parents in the survey said they had to quit jobs or had been fired in connection with their child's allergy.
All told, the survey estimated that the total annual economic cost to the United States due to food allergies in children was $25 billion.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Reveals the Costs of a Heart Attack

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you're lucky enough to survive a heart attack, then you know that your health is not the only thing that takes the hit. Heart attacks can hurt your finances and hinder your ability to work.
A study presented to the American Heart Association reveals more about the toll heart attacks and other coronary conditions take on our resources.

For the study, the researchers looked at 37,000 people from 2007 to 2010. Most were men, many younger than 65. They found that the cost of hospitalization and medication was $8,170 per person.
Patients lost an average of 60.2 workdays right after their heart attacks and -- over the longer term -- lost more than a year.
For employers, the disability costs were greater than the direct costs: $7,943 for short-term disability and $52,473 for long-term disability.
The study authors concluded that heart disease can impose devastating effects financially as well as in lost productivity -- arguing for more prevention in the form of no smoking, weight loss, a healthful diet and proper drugs to control high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arizona Hospital's $80,000 Bill Stings Worse Than Scorpion Venom

Hemera/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- An Arizona woman was shocked when her brush with a scorpion led to a stinging $83,046 hospital bill.

Marcie Edmonds, 52, called the poison control center an hour after a bark scorpion stung her in the stomach while she was opening a box of air conditioner filters. She experienced mild tingling, throat tightness, darting eyes, muscle spams and difficulty breathing, ABC News confirmed.

As a typical illness from the venom progresses from numbness and tingling to uncontrolled muscle movements, it can resemble a seizure, said Dr. Steven Curry, the director of Medical Toxicology at the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. The muscle spasms spread to the chest and cause respiratory problems, which can be life-threatening -- especially in children, Curry said.

The poison control center advised Edmonds to go to a hospital, so she went to Chandler Regional Medical Center, where doctors administered two vials of a relatively new anti-venom called Anascorp, which was approved by the Federal Drug Administration last August and is distributed to hospitals for about $3,800 per vial, toxicologists say.

Edmonds left the hospital after a three-hour stay, but the bill that arrived several weeks later came out to $83,046, or $39,652 per Anascorp vial, ABC News confirmed. That's about 10 times what the hospital paid for each vial.

"Everyone I talk to says, 'You've got to be kidding,'" Edmonds told the Arizona Republic.

Chandler Regional Medical Center released a statement apologizing for Edmonds' treatment costs, explaining that they are working to adjust the high "out-of-network" bill she received for the anti-venom.

"In addition, we are also currently reviewing our pricing of this expensive specialty medication," the statement said.

Anascorp had been administered for free to about 2,000 scorpion sting patients during a 10-year clinical trial in the United States before last year, said Dr. Keith Boesen, the director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

The drug is made from horse antibodies and comes from Mexico, where it costs about $100 per dose, according to Kaiser Health News. Boesen explained that this is because about 10,000 people are treated with the drug there each year, bringing down costs.

In the United States, however, there is only one scorpion that has the potential to be lethal in humans: the bark scorpion. And it's mostly found in Arizona and its neighboring states. The number of people treated with Anascorp each year is much smaller in the U.S.

So far this year, the Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center, which handles poison control for Phoenix, has had 5,414 calls for scorpion stings. No deaths have been reported in more than three years, according to Good Samaritan spokeswoman Rebecca Armendariz.

Although Edmonds' experience was scary, toxicologists are most worried about children under 6 years old. The smaller or younger a child is, the more likely it is that the venom will have a life-threatening effect on that child because the scorpion releases the same amount of venom regardless of its target's body mass.

"A scorpion sting that would just affect my leg would affect an entire child's body," Boesen said.

It's those children that are most often prescribed the expensive anti-venom because it's often cheaper than spending two days in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, which is often the alternative, said Dr. Richard Clark, who directs the toxicology department at the University of California San Diego.

"The only way to justify spending that on an anti-venom is that 99 percent of the time it costs less than a day in the ICU," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Patients in the Dark on Medical Costs, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A new study has put a spotlight on the astonishing disparities in what Americans pay for health care.  For example, an uncomplicated surgery to have the appendix removed could cost much more than you might think.

The vast difference in costs among hospitals for similar procedures was the focus of a new study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, whose findings were published Monday in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. After reviewing charges from more than 19,000 patients, the researchers found that the cost for treatment of uncomplicated appendicitis ranged from $1,529 to a whopping $182,955. To put this in perspective, the price of a new Maserati is $130,000.

Health care transparency has been a topic of great debate. In a country where most of price-setting for other products is influenced by consumers, many experts said when it came to health care, U.S. consumers had no power. This, they said, was because they lacked fundamental knowledge necessary in a free-market economy -- the cost of the services for which they were paying.

The reasons for this are many. Few people understand the complexities of health care reimbursement, because how hospitals establish what patients are charged is only abstractly related to actual cost. Hospitals record supplies and services rendered during a hospital stay, and charge according to a fee schedule, or "chargemaster." But these amounts rarely reflect what hospitals actually receive as payment. Medicare and Medicaid payments are set by the government, while third-payer insurance prices are negotiated yearly for significantly reduced rates.

"There is no standard in the United States for reasonable prices or reference pricing," said lead study author Dr. Renee Hsia, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "If you go to a hospital, they can charge you whatever they want. Negotiated rates are trade secrets," she said.

"I see these issues every day," she said. "Regardless of what they are coming in for, the bill is going to be huge. Even if we can take care of them physically, financially, it could be devastating."

And devastating it is for millions of Americans. In a 2007 study by Harvard Medical School and Ohio University researchers, 62.1 percent of bankruptcies were medically related. Most of these happened to well-educated Americans who owned their homes and were in middle-class occupations. Not all these families were struck by devastating cancer or incurable disease. Hsia's findings suggested that it was possible that even a routine procedure could produce a bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"No one is protected," Hsia said. "Even with insurance, it is a crazy and secret system"

Others working in the field suggested there was no simple solution.

"Consumer empowerment can only occur if prospective patients actually have easy access to user-friendly, reliable information," Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt explained in his 2006 article, "The Pricing of U.S. Hospital Services: Chaos Behind a Veil of Secrecy."

In 2006, California started to require hospitals to publish average charges for common procedures. However, these charges were rarely posted on hospital websites, making the information difficult to obtain. Furthermore, published charges rarely reflect negotiated payments.

Meanwhile, numerous websites have popped up allowing consumers to search for the average prices of common medical procedures and services according to ZIP codes. And a select few hospitals and insurance companies have made treatment cost estimators available to help patents prepare for upcoming hospital bills.

Despite these efforts, not much has changed to help patients become informed consumers.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio 


Want a Lower Medical Bill? Just Ask

Comstock/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- The economy has left millions unemployed and mounting medical costs have put millions in debt. With financial hardships in mind, a new Consumer Reports column suggests ways to become a savvy health care buyer and haggler.

"I have become impressed with how often American households are unable to afford their medical bills and medications, and they're doing various things, like not taking their medications or taking someone else's, because they can't afford them," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center and author of the column.

Because of this, Santa noted that the best time to talk to doctors about medical bills and financial limits is before a patient has incurred any costs.

"It helps to know from folks the degree to which financial issues are a stress for them, especially related to health," Santa said.  "This works best if the physician is aware of this from the start.  If you're struggling to keep your head above water, tell the doctor anything he can do to moderate cost is appreciated."

For many medical conditions, there is a wide range of ways to diagnose and treat the problem and the treatments can vary "enormously" in cost, experts said.

"This recommendation makes sense to me in today's world," said Alan Sager, professor of health policy and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  "In a more reasonable world, of course, all patients would be insured and all would pay the same price for the same care.  And doctors and hospitals would be financially neutral, liberating them to recommend care in light of its clinical value."

When an unexpected exorbitant bill gets handed to a patient, Santa recommends speaking with the doctor who recommended the procedure or treatment to understand why the costs are so high.

And don't ever assume the price on the bill is set in stone.  On average, the hospitals' total charges to patients and insurers are triple the average cost of actually delivering hospital care to the patient, Sager noted.  Uninsured patients are usually charged the highest price, which is the hospital's list price for different treatments and tests.

"That's because no big insurance company or Medicare plan is available to negotiate a lower price," Sager said.  "Hospitals usually offer to discount their initial bill by 10 to 20 percent from those very high charges when the patient simply asks.  That can be offered by the billing or patient accounts department."

For patients hit with an extremely high bill, Sager recommended bypassing the billing department and calling the hospital CEO's office directly.  Explain the problem and ask for help, he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HHS in Campaign to Cut Hospital Errors

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday announced a national program to help save 63,000 lives and up to $35 billion in health care costs over the next three years by preventing hospital-related injuries.

"Americans go the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents," Sebelius said. "Working closely with hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients, families and employers, we will support efforts to help keep patients safe, improve care, and reduce costs. Working together, we can help eliminate preventable harm to patients."

Sebelius was joined by hospital leaders, employers, insurers, doctors, nurses and patient advocates.

As many as one-third of hospital visits lead to hospital-related injuries, according to an April 7 report in Health Affairs. The missteps range from hospital-acquired infections to deadly surgical mistakes.

Sebelius said under the Partnership for Patients, HHS would invest up to $1 billion in federal funding through the Affordable Care Act.

The Community-based Care Transitions Program pledged $500 million and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will pitch in up to $500 million more to achieve the partnership's two main goals: To reduce preventable injuries by 40 percent; and cut preventable hospital readmissions by 20 percent.

"Reaching those targets would save up to $35 billion over the next 10 years," Sebelius said, adding that $10 billion of that would come from Medicare savings. "That's a return of up to $10 for each dollar we're investing."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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