“Hospitals grab at least $1 billion in extra fees for emergency room visits”

From The Center for Public Integrity:

Use of the top two most expensive codes for emergency room care nationwide nearly doubled, from 25 percent to 45 percent of all claims, during the time period examined. In many cases, these claims were not for treating patients with life-threatening injuries. Instead, the claims the Center analyzed included only patients who were sent home from the emergency room without being admitted to the hospital. Often, they were treated for seemingly minor injuries and complaints.

While taxpayers footed most of the bill, the charges also hit elderly patients in the pocketbook, increasing the amount of their 20-percent co-payments for emergency room care.

Hospitals and federal officials say the rise has likely been caused by an increase in sicker patients seeking care in emergency rooms, more accurate billing on the part of hospitals, and an increasing number of options for patients who aren’t as sick — options that include retail-based clinics and urgent care facilities. But the Center’s investigation found that the surge in billing also reflects lax government oversight, confusion about proper billing standards, and widespread payment errors that have plagued Medicare for more than a decade. And the data suggest that some hospitals are working the billing system — and its flaws — to maximize payments.