A Colorado mother thought the surgeon was being generous when she offered to pierce her daughter’s ears while the 5-year-old was under for a procedure.
Then she discovered the unexpected price tag for what she had thought had been a free perk: $1,877.86 for services related to the piercing, according to ProPublica. The simple procedure can be free in some places with the purchase of earrings.
The mother, Margaret O’Neill, told ProPublica and NPR that she at first thought the charge was a misunderstanding. She tried to explain to Children’s Hospital Colorado that she never would have agreed to the piercing by the surgeon if she’d known how much it would cost.
“The hospital wouldn’t budge. In fact, O’Neill said it dug in, telling her to pay up or it would send the bill to collections,” ProPublica reported.
In its joint investigation with NPR published this week, ProPublica wrote that O’Neill’s plight was a stark example of “health care waste known as overuse.”
The category includes such things as piercings and other unnecessary procedures or tests, levels of care that are unnecessary and surgeries that “have proven ineffective.”
Wasteful health care spending amounts to $765 billion each year, according to experts cited in the investigation — about a quarter of all money spent on health care.
Inefficiencies in the health care system also lead to needless deaths, according to a 2012 report by the National Academy of Medicine. The report estimated 75,000 deaths “might have been averted in 2005 if every state had delivered care at the quality level of the best performing state.”
The investigation also outlines other cases of high-cost procedures that some patients say leave them feeling helpless and gouged.
O’Neill called the tab for her daughter’s piercing “absurd.”
“There are a lot of things we’d pay extra for a doctor to do,” she told ProPublica. “This is not one of them.”
A spokeswoman for Children’s Colorado defended the hospital, according to The Denver Post, but said she could not speak specifically about O’Neill’s case, citing patient privacy laws.
Had O’Neill’s daughter, who needed surgery to remove tissue from beneath her tongue, not had her ears pierced, the total surgery bill would not have decreased by $1,877, The Post reported after receiving information from the hospital. Rather, part of the surgical costs were shifted onto O’Neill because her insurance company refused to pay for the ear piercing.
The Children’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Whitehead, declined to say whether the incident resulted in policy changes at the hospital, according to The Post.
“We welcome the opportunity this brings to our ongoing discussions about processes and improving upon the patient-family experience,” she wrote in an email.