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Hospital bills tourists $25k ‘for nothing’

Worried their eight month old son was inconsolable and possibly suffering from unseen injuries after falling from a hotel bed and hitting his head, Jang Yeo-im and her husband called 911.


They were transported by ambulance to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital where doctors quickly gave the baby the all clear and a few hours later, after a short nap and a drink of infant formula, the baby was discharged, Vox reported. 


Image Jun Michael Park for Vox


It was just the first day of the South Korean family’s USA holiday.


Two years on, the family received a bill from the hospital in the region of AU$25,000, $21,000 of which was for “trauma activation”.


According to Vox, a trauma fee is “the price a trauma centre charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER”. The fees can run in the tens of thousands, are reportedly applied arbitrarily and vary greatly from hospital to hospital.


None of this is widely known to tourists.


While the family of the baby had travel insurance, it would only cover about AU$6,700.


“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” the boy’s mother said.


“If my baby got special treatment, okay. That would be okay. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”


Teresa Brown of Medliminal reviewed the case and says she would dispute the trauma activation fee as, while the boy was met by a trauma team, he did not appear to receive 30 minutes critical care by them. The team reportedly saw to the child for some five minutes before he was transferred to an exam room for observation.


A spokesperson for the San Francisco hospital told Vox that while Park didn’t require extensive treatment, being trauma-ready is expensive.


“We are the trauma centre for a very large, very densely populated area,” the spokesperson said. 


“We deal with so many traumas in this city — car accidents, mass shootings, multiple vehicle collisions. It’s expensive to prepare for that.”


The boy’s parents have a patient advocate working on their behalf to negotiate the bill with the hospital, but the experience seems not to have deterred the family from travelling to the US again.


“I like the USA. There are many things to see when travelling,” the boy’s mother said. 


“But the health care system in USA was very bad.”


Written by: Gaya Avery
Published: 9 July 2018

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