Charging for Mistakes: Medical Errors and the Billing System
Can you imagine a world where hired professionals can charge you for the things they get wrong?
Imagine getting bills from mechanics for replacing your perfectly good transmission when they should have simply changed your oil. Imagine receiving an invoice from your accountant for doing your taxes even though his errors ended up getting you audited. Imagine having to pay a dentist for removing the wrong tooth.
This rather backwards scenario is actually taking place on a daily basis. Doctors and hospitals are actually charging patients and their insurance companies for surgical errors and misdiagnoses. And the American taxpayer is helping to pay the bill.
There are several documented cases of patients who have been injured receiving bills from the doctor who performed the error, and in some cases even the estates of patients who had died as a result of the mistakes were getting charged.
An article posted on MSNBC describes a disturbing trend of patients and their insurers being charged for surgical and medical errors, with several examples of how this practice has affected the victims.
Among the examples are:
- A 33 year old Iowa man who was charged for having a hernia operation performed on the wrong side.
- A 67 year old Florida man who died after receiving the wrong blood type.
In both cases these patients were sent bills for the wrong procedure, and in the case of the man from Florida, his estate was billed.
There are states that prevent doctors or hospitals for charging for preventable medical errors. It is currently the state policy in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon to advise hospitals to avoid charging patients for easily preventable mistakes. While that’s admirable, having only eleven out of fifty states following what would seem to be an obvious procedure seems ridiculous. For that matter, so does the idea of doctors charging for mistakes at all.
So why do doctors and hospitals still have the nerve to send out invoices in cases like these? There are several reasons, but the first and most important reason falls under the heading of the word that doctors, hospitals and insurance companies fear the most: “Liability.”
According to the logic of the doctors, the hospitals and their lawyers, not charging for a medical mistake could be used as further evidence of wrongdoing in court. (As if cutting off the wrong limb, operating on the wrong vertebrae or administrating the wrong blood type to a patient isn’t evidence enough.) Not charging for a mistake admits that you made the mistake on paper, and that could prove dangerous for doctors in a court of law.
And since insurers routinely deny so many legitimate claims in the first place, it’s a safe bet to say that if your insurance company gets charged for an error, they will probably pass those costs on to you.
Doctors and hospital aren’t just hitting insurers and patients with these charges. They also happen to be billing the American taxpayer, which means you and me and every American that reads this. Medicare, the federal insurance program that is available to help ease the health burdens of older Americans, is routinely billed by doctors and hospitals for preventable medical errors. The payment system was so ridiculous that hospitals were paid more for treating infections, even if the infection was caused by unsanitary conditions in the hospital.
The absurdity of this practice was described perfectly in a recent New York Times editorial:
The perversity of a payment system that actually rewards incompetence rather than penalizing it seems self-evident.
We agree. That’s why we think its good news that, starting in October, Medicare will no longer pay for preventable medical errors. This is long overdue. And in the meantime, the other thirty nine states in this country should follow the example of the eleven that prevent this abhorrent practice from occurring.
As medical malpractice attorneys, we know first hand the pain and frustration that a victim of a medical error goes through. It is bad enough knowing that your quality of life has diminished considerably without actually being billed for the mistake.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a surgical or medical error, contact our offices for a free legal consultation today.