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“Jennifer Smithfield felt weak and still had trouble breathing in February after nearly two weeks with covid-19,” Blake Farmer writes over at Nashville Public Radio. “It was a Sunday, and her doctor’s office was closed. So her primary care physician suggested going to an emergency room to be safe. Smithfield went to HCA Healthcare’s flagship hospital, near its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., and thought she would be checked out and sent home. But that’s not what happened. ‘Even though I did not feel well, I didn’t think it was bad enough to be hospitalized, especially not multiple days,’ Smithfield said. Over three days, Smithfield racked up $40,000 in charges for her inpatient stay and received a bill for $6,000 under the terms of her health insurance policy. ‘I could have walked out,’ Smithfield said. ‘I wish I had walked out.’ While she was in the hospital, she said, the doctor who had directed her to the ER texted her repeatedly, asking why she’d been admitted. For more than a decade, large health systems have faced scrutiny for admitting patients to costly hospital stays when less expensive treatments or short periods of observation in the ER would have been appropriate.Commercial insurers pay handsomely for inpatient care, with room rates often hitting several thousand dollars a day — and that doesn’t include the charges that inevitably follow for bloodwork, consultations, and other exams that typically occur. Hospitals, like hotels, maximize revenue by keeping their beds full.” Blake Farmer, “Hospital Giant HCA Fends Off Accusations of Questionable Inpatient Admissions,” Kaiser Health News.

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...