Hospital Costs

A $1,700 emergency room charge “is consistent with the charges assessed by other hospitals in our area,” a Good Samaritan Hospital spokeswoman says. (Tetra ImagesGetty Images/Brand X)

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times
June 5, 2015

  • Hospital patients face a tough challenge in getting a straight answer to the question, ‘Why so much?’
  • At $20 a pill, hospital imposed a markup of more than 14,000%, a healthy profit margin by anyone’s reckoning
  • Hospital charges $1,700 for a routine blood-pressure test, a pill and the use of a bed for 90 minutes

A single dose of the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam — the generic version of Ativan — will run you about 14 cents at Safeway or Target.

At Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, the same pill goes for nearly $2,000.

At least that’s the impression Laurie Leigh came away with after being so overcome with grief when her 90-year-old father died at the hospital that she fainted at his bedside. She subsequently received a pill to soothe her nerves.

Leigh’s insurer, Blue Shield of California, covered about $200 of the bill, leaving her holding the bag for more than $1,700.

Leigh’s experience underlines a problem faced by everyone who interacts with our healthcare system — the inexplicable cost of even the most modest treatment. Patients face a tough challenge in getting a straight answer to the question, “Why so much?”

“Hospitals and doctors don’t like to answer that question because there’s no good answer,” said Jerry Flanagan, staff attorney with the Santa Monica advocacy group Consumer Watchdog. “The answer is that they charge as much as they think they can get away with.”

It’s worth noting that Leigh’s $1,952 bill was aside from the bill for about $100,000 that her father ran up over several weeks, until he was disconnected from a life-support machine.

All things considered, you’d think any hospital would do whatever it could to assist bereaved family members and wouldn’t be tempted to reach deeper into their pockets.

Makes you also wonder what part of the Good Samaritan story Good Samaritan Hospital doesn’t understand.

Leigh, 57, told me that when her father died in February, she was so stricken that she collapsed briefly into a family member’s arms. She came to as she was being moved by wheelchair into Good Samaritan’s emergency department.

In the ER, Leigh said, her blood pressure was measured — it was a little high — and she was given the pill to help her relax. She then waited about 90 minutes on a bed until she felt calm enough to leave.

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