Vox takes a deep dive into the scary world of medical bills and focuses on one relatively new component that can result in mind-boggling bills: the "trauma fee." Hospitals began charging these fees in 2002, and they're supposed to work like so: A medic in the field, say an ambulance driver, radios in to the hospital that a trauma team needs to be readied to care for a seriously injured patient or patients. Once that call is made—medics have wide discretion and generally err on the side of caution by summoning such a team—it can add $10,000 or more to the bill. The story rounds up eye-popping examples:
- A couple visiting from South Korea called an ambulance after their 8-month-old baby fell off the bed and hit his head. Turns out, the boy was fine. He took a nap at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and was given some infant formula before discharge. Because of a "trauma fee" of $15,666, the couple was billed $18,836.
- A motorcyclist racked up a $22,550 trauma fee after a minor accident. He was at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., for only about a half-hour before being discharged for treatment of a small cut on his head. He received ibuprofen and two staples.
Hospital officials interviewed defend the fee, saying it's expensive to round up a trauma team and treat a patient, even if that treatment ends up being minor. Interestingly, the story quotes the person responsible for inventing the fee for the National Uniform Billing Committee. "To a degree, I feel like I created a monster," says Connie Potter. "Some hospitals are turning this into a cash cow on the backs of patients." Hospitals are supposed to use discretion and downgrade the fee to that of a regular ER visit when appropriate, but many are clearly not. Potter complains that the fees are now often based on the whims of hospital executives rather than on actual costs. Read the full story. (Read more medical bills stories.)