Patients who visit Virginia Mason Medical Center's downtown Seattle clinic pay for its location -- unfairly so, say two women suing the not-for-profit hospital and its network of clinics.
Lori Mill got a bill from Virginia Mason for $1,133 after stopping to have a toenail checked for fungus. The bill included a $418 fee just for using the downtown clinic. DeLois Gibson's bill included an $846 charge for visiting the downtown clinic for a five-minute, one-stitch procedure, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in Washington Superior Court.
Before the lawsuit, Virginia Mason never told patients or the public that a visit downtown would cost more than a visit to any of its satellite clinics, the lawsuit alleges. Since tracking began four months ago, Virginia Mason has received 100 complaints per month, on average, the complaint said.
The two patients aren't the only ones critical of the extra charges. One Virginia Mason physician, Allan Kayne, called the fees "excessive" and "ethically unfair" in an e-mail asking the system to wipe out $1,102 in such charges for a patient who sought treatment for warts. "These charges are not only excessive, but an embarrassment to me and to the medical center," he lamented.
Another employee in financial services, seemed incredulous when she noted an $899 downtown-clinic fee tacked onto a patient's $273 bill. "Wow, that's pricey!!!!" she wrote.
In a statement, the hospital said: "Most of our downtown campus is licensed as a hospital (including the downtown clinic). Therefore, when a patient visits the downtown clinic, they are, in effect, visiting the hospital and are charged a hospital fee for some services. This is a standard industry practice and is used by hospitals here and around the country."
Danger on the tennis court
Either we're a nation of complete klutzes or soccer and tennis are much more dangerous than we ever could have imagined.
Americans spent a staggering $73.4 billion in 2002 for the medical treatment of accidental injuries; about 22% of that sizable chunk of change went to treat sports-related injuries, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The agency's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which collects information about healthcare expenses, quality and access, reported that approximately 5.1 million Americans received medical care in 2002 for sport injuries that occurred the year of the survey or earlier.
Only motor-vehicle accidents accounted for a larger share of injury-related medical expenses than participatory sports -- about 37%, or approximately $27 billion, the AHRQ said.
The report did not attempt to rate the various danger levels of participatory sports like soccer, swimming, softball or tennis. It noted, however, that the findings do not include dental care, which means that total costs surely would have increased considerably if surveyors had tracked all the lost teeth, bridge work and root canals associated with just one sport: ice hockey.
Given the nature of the disaster in the Gulf region, it made sense that one of the means of bringing in healthcare supplies was a cargo jet that looks like a whale.
An Airbus Beluga A300-600 Super Transporter, on loan from the French consortium, made two trips to the region, toting supplies donated by Great Britain, France and Germany for stricken areas of Alabama and Mississippi.
The Beluga is so huge, at 185 feet long, 57 feet high and with a 23-by-113-foot cargo area, that it was able to carry an entire mobile hospital and food supplies in its hold. That hospital, which includes an operating room, X-ray module, laboratory, sterilization room, patient wards and other units, was on loan from the German military. It was dropped off last week in Jackson, Miss., for use in that state's Gulf Coast region.
Another trip brought more than 22 tons of relief supplies, which included blankets, cots and tents, to feed and care for the displaced victims in Mobile, Ala.
Spreading the pain
David Clark doesn't want it to appear as if he is picking on Utah state employees.
Clark, a member of the Utah House of Representatives, is planning to introduce a bill when the state Legislature session opens in January 2006 that would eliminate health insurance for former Utah lawmakers. Earlier this year, Clark sponsored a bill -- signed into law in March -- that cut back retirement benefits for state employees.
"If we asked the state employees to tighten their belts, we should ask lawmakers too," Clark says.
Clark, who received plenty of flak over the cuts to state employees' benefits, says he didn't find out about the legislators' benefit until February. If he knew about it earlier, he would have included the cut to lawmakers' benefits in the state employees' bill.
The state employees' law limited their ability to trade unused sick pay for retirement healthcare coverage. Only employees who retire before the end of this year can still qualify for the program. The Utah Public Employees Association has filed a lawsuit against the law, claiming that workers won't be getting promised retirement coverage.