The idea behind the current Pilot “discount” scam might be paraphrased as, “There’s a trusting, unquestioning rube born every minute, and if we can only overbill him, we can make lots of extra moolah without actually earning it.”
The testimony of Pilot stool pigeons who sang to avoid the slammer makes it clear that Pilot’s scam targeted customers trusting enough to pay bills without scrutinizing them. Any customer who checked the math and figured out that it didn’t add up, would immediately be put on a much fairer (i.e., honest) billing program.
But the hucksters at Pilot didn’t invent this scam, and a much larger one is targeting large numbers of poor and elderly Nashvillians, on a daily basis. Some of them are in terrible pain and living on the brink of death, but the people they trust with their lives — hospital administrators and doctors — are involved in a coldblooded scam to overbill them, and only charge them fairly if they protest.
My wife Beth and I became victims of this scam when she had to be rushed to a local hospital with what turned out to be a chemical imbalance. (She has struggled with anorexia for years and sometimes doesn’t eat enough to keep a hummingbird in good health.) Beth received excellent medical care from local health care professionals, and she came home speaking highly of the hospital and its staff ... until the bill arrived.
When she reviewed the bill, she discovered that medicine that is very affordable at our local pharmacy was outrageously expensive at the hospital. A single bag of saline solution (salt water) cost $211. A pill that normally costs 26 cents (30 for $7.99) cost $186, for a single pill! We were, of course, shell-shocked. The total bill was more than $12,000 for a brief hospital stay and our insurance company refused to pay the outrageous prices.
However, a patient advocate revealed the nature of the scam by telling us that if we disputed the bill we could expect to save a lot of money. Beth had to get on the phone and spend a lot of shouldn’t-have-been-necessary time with various bean-counters. That time kept her away from work, costing us more money. We are still waiting to hear what the final bill will be. Of course this has created additional stress for us, and especially for Beth.
It seems to me that Nashville hospitals are pulling their own scams, except that many of their customers are elderly, in poor health, stressed-out, and not always able to think clearly. How many of them just paid the bills, not realizing that the markup on a pill that normally cost 26 cents could be 71,538 percent?
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.