By Consumers For Quality Care, on January 17, 2020
During a family camping trip last summer, Katy and David Monson’s vacation took a turn when they noticed bite marks on their son’s ear. After finding bat droppings in their tent, the couple decided to end the trip early and take their son to the doctor. The doctor confirmed their fears – the bite marks on their son’s ear matched those of a bat, an animal known to carry rabies. As KSL reports, the family’s ordeal with treatment was just beginning.
Rabies is 100% fatal in humans if left untreated. The Monson’s doctor recommended the entire family get treated. The treatment for rabies is complex and the Monsons knew it would come at a high cost.
The doctor warned Katy the rabies treatments would be expensive. It requires a series of four vaccines and a dose of immunoglobulin. The immunoglobulin dosage depends on a person’s weight, so is considerably more expensive for adults than children.
After learning the news, the family was referred to a Utah emergency center for their initial treatments. Afterwards, Katy did extensive research to find where the family could get the best rates on the rest of their treatments. But Katy was shocked by the total bill they eventually faced.
The young mother thought the treatment might cost $3,000-4,000 per family member. She wasn’t prepared for the massive bills that followed. The total cost was over $51,000.
Even with insurance, the Monson family still had to pay more than $13,000 — their out-of-pocket maximum for the year.
One reason the Monsons were surprised by the bill is because the hospital had publicly listed a lower price for the treatment. Starting in January 2019, the federal government required all hospitals to publicly post price lists, called “chargemasters.” And while the government requires the hospitals to post prices, the hospitals are not technically required to stick to them. The chargemaster for the facility where the Monsons were treated listed the cost at a far lower rate than what they paid in reality.
The 2019 chargemaster for Intermountain Medical Center — where the Monson family went for treatment — lists the rabies drug RabAvert at $472.20 per shot.
However, they were charged nearly $300 more than that — $770.13 total per shot.
When KSL’s investigative team contacted the hospital about the discrepancy, the hospital cited “underlying costs” of running their facility. The Monsons feel there is nothing else they could have done to lower their bill any further. Their story shows that even savvy, insured consumers can be vulnerable to sky-high bills after unplanned hospital visits.
“I was on the phone non-stop just trying to like wheel and deal and find the best prices. I felt like we were making the best possible decision. And until it all shakes out, you don’t know what you’re getting,” Katy said.