“If my baby got special treatment, OK. That would be OK. But he didn’t."

By Maria Pasquini
July 09, 2018

While vacationing in the United States, a family of South Korean tourists received a hospital bill for over $18,000 after taking their son to the hospital for a very quick and uneventful visit.

While visiting San Francisco in 2016, Jang Yeo Im’s son Park Jeong Whan, then 8 months, hit his head after falling off the bed in their hotel room, reported Kaiser Health News.

Although the child wasn’t bleeding, he was very upset by the injury, so Jang and her husband decided to call an ambulance to take him to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where doctors quickly determined the child had not been seriously injured by the fall.

Before being discharged after just three hours and 22 minutes, the child — who had a few bruises on his face — took a short nap and drank some infant formula.

However, when the family received their bill two years later, they found they were being charged for $18,836. The majority of the cost was encompassed by a $15,666 fee for “trauma activation,” the amount charged by the trauma center for activating a group of medical professionals to help deal with a patient’s potentially life-threatening injuries in the ER.

“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” the mother told KHN. “If my baby got special treatment, OK. That would be OK. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

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A spokesman for the San Francisco hospital where the child was treated, defended the $15,666 charge to KHN, explaining that even though the child didn’t end up needing emergency trauma treatment, the cost of being trauma-ready is very expensive.

”We are the trauma center for a very large, very densely populated area. We deal with so many traumas in this city — car accidents, mass shootings, multiple vehicle collisions,” Andrew told the outlet. “It’s expensive to prepare for that.”

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Trauma fees vary widely across the United States, according to Medliminal, a company that specializes in identifying medical billing errors. While at one hospital in Missouri, the fee can come out to $1,112, in California, it could cost you $50,659.

The fees began appearing on hospital bills after they were approved by the National Uniform Billing Committee in January 2002, in order to help ensure that quality trauma care would be available to patients 24/7, KHN reported.

However, according to Connie Potter — an executive at the consulting firm that advocated for the approval of the trauma fees — the trauma center is supposed to bill at a lower rate if the patient does not require at least 30 minutes of critical care. 

According to ambulance records, by the time the EMTs arrived at the family’s hotel room, the 8-month-old child was already “crawling on the bed, not appearing to be in any distress,” reported KHN. However, likely because of the child’s age, after consulting with a physician at the hospital, the child was transported to the emergency room as a trauma patient.

Although Jang told the outlet she remembered being greeted by nine or ten medical providers at the hospital, Teresa Brown of Medliminal, who reviewed the case, said that according to the child’s medical records, there was no mention of a trauma team being present.

“I like the USA. There are many things to see when traveling,” Jang told KHN. “But the health care system in USA was very bad.”

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