HMA hospital billed $89K for treating a snakebite

A North Carolina hospital operated by Health Management Associates, already under fire for allegedly overbilling the Medicare program, recently charged a patient $89,000 for an emergency room visit to treat a snakebite, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Eric Ferguson received the snake bite last August and spent 18 hours in the emergency room. The cost for the treatment at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, N.C. was $89,227.  More than $81,000 of those charges were for the administration of four vials of snake anti-venom. By contrast, Medicare would pay less than $9,500. The medicine itself retails for between $740 and $12,000 per vial via Internet retailers, according to the Observer.

Ferguson's insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, paid Lake Norman discounted charges of $20,227. Ferguson's out-of-pocket costs were about $5,400, according to the Observer.

"What if it was someone that didn't have the resources to research and didn't have insurance?" Ferguson's wife Laura told the Observer. "What is fair and equitable here?"

Anti-venom treatments can be particularly costly, with such medicine running as much as $12,000 a vial in Arizona to treat scorpion bites. However, such prices have come under criticism since the identical medicine can be had for as little as $100 a vial just over the border in Mexico.

And HMA's billing and ER practices are already under scrutiny. Earlier this month, eight whistleblower lawsuits in six states were unsealed in federal court against the Florida-based hospital chain, all of which were joined by the U.S. Department of Justice. Lake Norman Regional is among those HMA hospitals under fire. Two of the hospital's former ER medical directors have accused hospital management of terminating their contracts after refusing to comply with orders from HMA they believed was intended to overadmit patients and drive up bills, according to the Statesville Record & Landmark.

HMA recently completed a merger with Community Health Systems, creating the nation's largest for-profit hospital operator.

To learn more:
- read the Charlotte Observer article
- check out the Record & Landmark article