20 Medical Bill Horror Stories

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Stethoscope And Calculator

Enough to Make You Sick

Hospitals and doctors’ offices are notorious for confusing costs, with fees that can soar as a result of unexpected or inexplicable charges, insurance loopholes, and consultation fees. It’s the kind of thing that bewilders citizens of most other countries, where single-payer health care prevents what The New York Times wrote about in an August exposé: “Hospitals are charging patients wildly different amounts for the same basic services,” and major health insurers often negotiate “surprisingly unfavorable rates for their customers. In many cases, insured patients are getting prices that are higher than they would if they pretended to have no coverage at all.” These horror stories, from Kaiser Health News unless otherwise identified, will remind you that the next time you get a $1,000 bill from your doctor, at least your statement doesn’t have another zero at the end — or two.

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Waiting Room In A Hospital

Dr. No Show

Doctors are known for high prices, but be warned that fees can rack up even when they aren’t there. One Missouri mom took her toddler to the emergency room after he burned his hand on the kitchen stove, but they left after waiting more than an hour for a surgeon who never appeared. They were still charged $1,012, or $859 once insurance negotiated. The hospital eventually forgave the fee. Or consider MarketWatch’s story of the Georgia woman who rushed to the emergency room in July with a head injury, checked in, and … nothing. After waiting for seven hours, she left without a doctor seeing her or a practitioner even checking her vitals, yet got a bill for $688 a few months later. She’s still negotiating the charges with the hospital.

Related: Things You Should Never Say to Your Doctor

car crash accident on the road

Car Crash Catastrophe

Car insurance personal injury protection policies can get you only so far, as one New Jersey man learned when he was billed $700,000 for surgery to repair damaged vertebrae in August 2020. Though he bought the maximum available coverage, that was for only up to $250,000. After negotiating with his car insurance company, he’s still on the hook for nearly $90,000. 

Related:Ways to Prevent Financial Disaster From a Serious Illness

A doctor taking care of a critically sick baby hooked on a ventilator in a hospital paediatric intensive care ward

Giving Birth to a $46,000-a-Month Payment Plan

Babies can be expensive, but one Florida family may have set a record. After an early arrival in November 2020, their son spent two months in the NICU getting life-saving care, resulting in the family getting an insurance-adjusted bill of $550,124. The proposed installment payment plan was$45,843 a month for 12 months — for some, an annual salary every 30 days. A year later, the family was still trying to cut through the red tape. 

Related: Medical Mistakes You Won't Believe

Babies in special baby care unit

Birthday Precedent

After first-time parents welcomed their daughter in Kansas, the bill for her birth in February 2019 was no bundle of joy. They were charged $270,951, including more than $207,000 for a NICU stay, after insurance providers enforced a little-known rule of starting by charging the parent whose birthday comes first in the calendar year, even if they have the worse insurance. After a year and a half of battling, the bill was forgiven, NPR says. 

Related: Why I'm Glad My Kids Are 6 Years Apart

Bicycle accident

Dashed Dreams From a Cycling Injury

As an Olympic cycling hopeful was racing toward his dreams in Pennsylvania in June 2019, he flew over his handlebars and crashed hard, resulting in a fractured collarbone, five broken ribs, a partially collapsed lung, and a broken scapula. His injuries hurt his budget even worse with the arrival of bills for more than $200,000 from various hospitals, surgical centers, and physicians. Why? Because some of the procedures were deemed elective. “I needed this surgery and no one else could do it,” he said. He’s still battling the bills two years later.

Related: Don't Let These Sports Injuries Ruin Your Summer

modern hospital building

Going Out of Network? Lesion Learned

After emergency room doctors diagnosed a Colorado man as at-risk for a brain aneurysm in April, they sent him to a different hospital to see a specialist. The medical move meant he was hit with a $109,586 bill for getting care at an out-of-network hospital. “They’re claiming I voluntarily went to an out-of-network hospital, which is not true,” he said. After an ABC-TV news team reached out, the hospital stated it had coded the charge wrong; he was left with a $2,700 statement.

Related: Costly Health Problems and How to Catch Them Early

A red, white and blue air ambulance helicopter

Private Ambulance Flight: A First-Class Problem

After a woman broke her spine in a car crash, the nearest small-town doc gave her husband the option to drive or fly to the nearest urban trauma center. The husband opted to fly instead or take a four-hour ambulance ride, Vice reports, and received a $60,000 bill — a sum on par with a luxurious private flight. The bill ballooned to $75,000 when the hospital charged interest during an appeal. The couple filed bankruptcy after the hospital denied their fourth appeal. 

Related: Things That Do Not Affect Your Credit Score

Doctor consulting with patient Back problems Physical therapy concept

‘Trauma Alert’ Fee Is Its Own Trauma

A car collision sent a California man to the emergency room for shoulder and back pain, but he was released in less than three hours with no lasting injuries. Still, his minor aches earned him a major bill of  more than $44,000, including a nearly $9,000 “trauma alert” fee for when the hospital’s surgeons were summoned to consult. His bill is part of an ongoing 2017 legal case, CNN says. 

Related: Don't Let These Hidden Fees Catch You By Surprise

Doctor doing a medical check-up on a woman's throat
Veterinary Surgeon in Operating Room

Appendix Bill Is a Pain

When a North Carolina man showed up at the emergency room closest to his home with an appendix ready to burst, he didn’t check whether it was out of his insurance network. Spoiler alert: It was. After life-saving surgery, he was stuck with a $28,000 bill. He’s still trying to negotiate a lower fee.

Related: Small Debts That Can Wreck Your Credit Score

Jaw scan

Grit Your Teeth for Jaw Surgery Bill

By getting jaw surgery, a Seattle man hoped to relieve his pain, migraine headaches, and high blood pressure. He didn’t bargain for a bill that would make most people’s jaws clench. After a 2018 surgery that cost him $3,000, the bill came to $27,119 on a follow-up procedure in 2020 -— so more than $24,000 over what he expected. The jump in cost was because of a change in insurance coverage when he switched jobs, despite both employers having the same insurer. When his surgeon intervened on his behalf, the man’s bill was reduced to just more than $7,000, which he is paying. 

Related: Ways to Get Help Paying or Lowering Your Monthly Bills

Rabies immunizatioin

Rabies Shot Takes a Bite Out of Wallet

A cat wasn’t the only thing that bit a Florida man a couple summers ago. After a rabies shot in the emergency room in the summer of 2020 came a bill big enough to leave a mark: $18,357. After insurance the man still owed north of $6,000, which was the standard fee at the hospital he happened to choose, The New York Times reports. 

Related: Simple Ways to Protect Your Pets in Hot Weather

Young worried mother working from home

Giving Birth at ‘Level 5’ Expense

A Colorado mom had a straightforward delivery in April 2020 and left the hospital with her bundle of joy. She wasn’t as joyful when shegot a $16,221.26 bill that included “Level 5” emergency services for her son’s by-the-book birth. After negotiating with insurance, the family ultimately paid more than $3,600 to the hospital.

Related: Great Gifts for New Parents

Shot of an unrecognisable senior man cooking a healthy meal at home
Charday Penn/istockphoto

Sliced Finger Is No Budget Cut

Cutting a finger while slicing vegetables is a common occurrence. But when one finance reporter cut his hand, he did more than ruin dinner. He racked up a hospital bill for more than $14,000 in June 2016 for a few minutes and a few stitches. The bill he got the next November included “skin tissue rearrangement,” aka “holding my skin flap down as [the doctor] sewed,” the reporter tweeted. He negotiated the bill down to $4,500, CafeMom reports. 

Related: Kitchen Mistakes You're Probably Still Making

Monitors Show EEG Reading and Graphical Brain Model. In the Background Laboratory Man Wearing Brainwave Scanning Headset Sits in a Chair with Closed Eyes. In the Modern Brain Study Research Laboratory
Sad kid with arm cast at the hotel balcony, Child with broken arm can't enjoy his holiday. Kid not able to swim in water with arm cast

Non-Existent Surgery, Very Real Cost

Who knew getting a cast counted as “surgery”? Certainly not the Arizona mom who took her kindergartener to the emergency room after he fell off a trampoline in October 2019. The hospital bill jumped to $2,117 citing a minor surgery, though getting a cast on is not a surgery as most would understand it. Then the hospital argued that the expense was related to a "facility fee" and a "pre-certification penalty." The Arizona Republic newspaper intervened on the family’s behalf and the bill was dismissed.

Related: Habits of Families With Healthy Kids

The girl lies in the birthplace with contractions and epidural anesthesia

Congratulations, It’s a Bill!

A pain-ridden California woman who requested an epidural while in labor got more than she bargained for during delivery. She got a $1,600 bill because, according to the hospital, she’d chosen an out-of-network provider to dispense the pain blocker. “I didn’t choose anything. I was in labor,” she explained to NBC News. After appealing to her insurance provider that the selection was involuntary, she received a reimbursement nine months after giving birth. 

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Doctor make a Surgical stitch

Scarred by the Cost of 6 Stitches

Some people love to brag about their scars, but it’s not usually because of how expensive they were. A Tennessee man can: After being injured on the job, he came home from an emergency room — one run by for-profit health care businesses owned by private equity — with six stitches for an inch-long wound and a bill charging him $6,590, or more than $1,000 a stitch. He’s offered to pay part of the bill and is threatening to take his case to governing agencies if the hospital doesn’t lower the fee, NPR Health News says in its November “Bill of the Month” feature.

Related: Lies You Need to Stop Telling Your Doctor

African American Father Holding and Feeding Newborn Infant Baby

New Dad Finds Snuggles Not Included

Holding their children for the first time is a memorable experience for new fathers, but it doesn’t usually come with a fee. A Utah dad found a $40 fee for skin-to-skin time on an itemized hospital bill after his wife gave birth via cesarean section in September 2016. The dad jokingly started a GoFundMe to raise money for the fee, CBS News reports.

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