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Woman receives $1,000 ER bill despite never leaving waiting room

Posted at 5:19 AM, Nov 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-13 05:19:19-05

The nation's second largest health insurer, Anthem, recently created a firestorm, saying it may not pay for emergency room visits if you have non-emergency symptoms.

But even if you have another insurer, we have an important warning about the soaring cost of visiting an ER for any reason.

Judy Burton was feeling some pains on a recent Saturday night, so she rushed to the emergency room.

"I went in, gave them my name, birth date, and my symptoms, and she put a little hospital band on my wrist, and told me to go to the waiting room," Burton said. 45 minutes and a few magazines later, she says "my pain subsided.  And I said I'm not going to sit here, it's hard to tell when I will get seen."

Burton she went home. A couple of weeks later she was hit by a different kind of pain: a bill for over a thousand dollars!

"$1,059 for sitting in their chair in the waiting room, and never saw anybody!"

At first, she didn't think much of it, figuring it was just a simple clerical error. She figured the hospital billed her for a full emergency room visit, not realizing she had left. But when she called, Judy says the hospital would offer only a payment plan.

"I said uh, I'm not paying it! I never saw a nurse or a doctor, no vitals were taken, I sat in your chair!"

She started filing an official dispute, but she says the next call she received was even worse: "she said you will be turned over to collections. And I thought oh my gosh!"

But absurd ER charges are common, according to a nationally known patient advocate with billadvocates.com.

"We are paying extreme costs that are not necessary," says advocate Pat Palmer. Palmer commonly sees bills for things from $11 Tylenol pills to $50 latex gloves.

But this is the new norm, according to the New York Times, which says if you have a high deductible health plan, be prepared for sky-high ER bills.

It says a "level two" ER visit -- for a cut or broken bone -- often starts with a $400 facility fee. Then add a doctor's fee, from $200 to $1,000. Lab fees and x-rays could cost another $400.

In the end, the hospital agreed to lower Judy's $1,000 ER bill, since she never saw a doctor or nurse. They even sent flowers as an apology.