Many Florida hospitals charge enormous "trauma" fees

The 25 hospitals throughout Florida designated as trauma centers routinely charge patients tens of thousands of dollars more than facilities without similar designations, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In one instance, a hospital in Fort Pierce, Fla. charged Eric Leonhard a "trauma fee" of nearly $33,000, even though clinicians didn't render any treatment and transferred him to another hospital in under an hour, the newspaper reported. Another trauma center hospital charged a patient a similar fee for treatment for superficial cuts.

Florida trauma centers charged patients trauma fees more than 120,000 times since 2006, with the fee ranging from $10,000 to more than $30,000, depending on the facility, according to the Tampa Bay Times' in-depth investigation. The newspaper estimates the hospitals collected as much as $500 million as a result.

Regulators approved the fees eight years ago, but even supporters of the charges suggest many hospitals turned the practice into price gouging. The average fee was $2,555 in 2006 but now is $10,825. "We had no idea how far this would go," Connie Potter, the founder of the Trauma Center Association of America, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Hospitals defended the practice, saying the fees defray the expenses of maintaining trauma-related equipment and staff. "Providing trauma services requires highly specialized teams of caregivers, equipment and processes that have to be available 24/7," HCA spokerson J.C. Sadler told the Tampa Bay Times. "Our activation fees directly reflect the actual cost in each community of mobilizing these resources for patients who receive trauma care."

And outcomes for critically injured patients taken to trauma centers tend to be somewhat better than those treated at hospitals without a trauma center designation, a recent study suggested.

Many hospitals throughout the United States charge patients facility fees, a practice that infuriated one insurer so much it filed a lawsuit against three freestanding emergency rooms and a hospital. However, most of those fees are a fraction of what the trauma centers charge for patients to come through their doors.

To learn more:
- read the Tampa Bay Times article