Saturday, December 7, 2019
123RF
Journalism

Man’s Outrageous Dialysis Bill Disappears After News Reports

A Montana man faced a dialysis bill that totaled more than half a million dollars until several news agencies reported his story…and the bill vanished.

How can one man rack up a $540,000 dialysis bill in just 14 weeks? It happened to a Montana man suffering from kidney failure recently.

As he tells it, his insurance company told him there were no “in-network” dialysis providers in the entire state of Montana. I can’t imagine insurance companies not finding in-network providers for something as critical as dialysis care. To be fair, his insurance company disputes that claim, according to CBS News.

But the man says he was given an ominous warning from his doctor: Either take dialysis or die.

The choice seems pretty clear to any reasonable-minded person, I would think.

So he went to a health care provider for dialysis treatments. Over 14 weeks, the treatment produced a bill of more than $540,000. His insurance ultimately paid about $16,000, leaving him with a $524,600.17 bill.

If you’re wealthy, I suppose a bill like that doesn’t faze you.

If you’re like most people, a bill for 14 weeks of medical treatment that’s significantly higher than the cost of the house you live in is horrifying.

Then a funny thing happened.

I saw the story reported last week on CBS This Morning. At the time, the man was trying to figure out what he could possibly do about a bill that was so impossibly high.

But CBS News wasn’t the only one to report the story.

NPR also covered it, and Kaiser Health News also ran the story. KHN even included an embedded PDF of the actual itemized bill that included multiple dialysis treatments listed at more than $6,000 each. The bill also included multiple doses of a drug called Micera, which is apparently administered to help the kidneys produce red blood cells. Single doses of Micera cost as much as $27,000, according to the bill.

In less than a week after the reports came out, the patient got another shock. The dialysis treatment center agreed to drop the bill.

All $524,600.17 of it. And it is being reported that the health care provider and the insurance company are working on coming to an agreement so that this won’t happen again.

It shouldn’t have happened to begin with.

Every time I’ve ever asked why medical procedures or medication administered during those procedures are so expensive, I get the same answer. Well, the provider knows the insurance company will negotiate down, I’m told. So they overcharge knowing they’ll never see that money.

But there comes a point at which someone needs to be able to look at the bill before it’s mailed (or emailed) and consider the human equation.

Who can afford a $500,000 medical bill?

Who can feel good about passing that bill to a consumer?

And why did it apparently take news coverage shining a spotlight on this one case for two sides to suddenly begin working together?

One last question that’s even more frightening: How many more people does this happen to who face financial ruin because there’s no reporter telling their story to a national audience?

It’s a good thing journalism stepped in here.

It’s a shame it had to.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.