Why Are American Hospitals Charging Up to $800 for a $1 Bag of Salt Water?

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Top Tier Gear USA

Horror stories abound about hospitals charging people ridiculous sums of money in America for something as cheap and plentiful as an aspirin. This is nothing new, and it’s something that’s sadly just an accepted fact.

Just last month, this guy posted a bill for his appendectomy on Reddit and it went viral. Why?

Because he was charged a stomach-turning $55,000 for the relatively simple procedure — an amount that would’ve likely induced appendicitis if the guy hadn’t already had his appendix taken out.

Overpriced, much? Did that surgery come with foie gras and caviar afterward?

This meme is currently making it’s way around Facebook:


Two thoughts crossed my mind when I saw it: A) That’s insanely outlandish, and B) only in America could such an insanely outlandish thing even be possible.

I decided to do a little research to see if this was actually true. After all, approximately 70% of the surface of this planet is covered in water — 97% of which is of the salt variety. Are hospitals really charging Americans up to $800 for one of the most abundant resources on the planet and something that ultimately costs a whole buck to make?

Yes. As a matter of fact, it turns out they are.

Nina Bernstein of The New York Times went in search of the same thing a few months ago, and found that the average intravenous bag of sterile saltwater costs somewhere between 0.44¢ and a whole dollar to produce (based on government figures). Bernstein also noted:

Some of the patients’ bills would later include markups of 100 to 200 times the manufacturer’s price, not counting separate charges for “IV administration.” And on other bills, a bundled charge for “IV therapy” was almost 1,000 times the official cost of the solution.

How can hospitals get away with charging $800 for a bag of saltwater and $25 for a single aspirin? My dad would call that “highway robbery” (like dads do).

Well, apparently it all has to do with our government’s jacked up reimbursement structure:

Public programs do not fully pay for the cost of care. The latest figures estimate that hospitals lose $35 billion a year on Medicare, Medicaid and other forms of government reimbursement. For specific procedures, the picture can be even bleaker.

Take note, because this money isn’t lost – you pay the difference. Unable to absorb these losses, the bill gets passed to commercial insurers and employers that purchase health plans for their employees. Hence the itemized charges of $25 for an aspirin or $100 for diapers that are paid by insurers today, and by you and me tomorrow in the form of higher premiums and co-pays. And it’s only going to get worse as our population ages and more of us call Medicare our insurance provider.

When CBS Sacramento asked the hospital mentioned earlier why it charged $55,000 for a simple appendectomy, they confirmed this to be the case:

[Sutter Health] pointed to California’s uninsured and those on Medi-Cal, saying:

“…we receive less than the actual cost of providing services from the majority of our patients while daily serving scores of other patients who have no ability to pay anything. Sutter Health agrees that an improved billing structure is needed..”

And apparently our big fat investment in America’s Big Pharma-dominated allopathic medical system ultimately gives us some pretty pathetic returns on actual health:

We get mediocre to poor results on life expectancy (26th place), infant mortality (31st), low birth weight (28th), maternal mortality (25th), you name it. It’s been true since the early 1980s, and we keep looking for solutions from within the health care sector itself. (source)

This has been true for decades and yet, we’re still looking for solutions within what is obviously a failed system? (Of course, now we’re in the process of being forced into that failed system via Obamacare.)

So despite spending 2.5 times more than any other country on healthcare per capita — an amount equivalent to 18% of our nation’s GDP — the U.S. is still sitting at 26th in overall life expectancy behind Slovenia…?

Great. Here’s to spending $799 on almost nothing, America!

Now you can see why a Bayer pharmaceuticals CEO would say his company doesn’t make cancer medicines for Indian markets (a developing nation that averages $132 per person spent on healthcare annually versus America’s $8,362), but for ‘Western patients who can afford them‘.

Uh huh.

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Melissa Dykes is a writer, researcher, and analyst for The Daily Sheeple and a co-creator of Truthstream Media with Aaron Dykes, a site that offers teleprompter-free, unscripted analysis of The Matrix we find ourselves living in. Melissa and Aaron also recently launched Revolution of the Method and Informed Dissent. Wake the flock up!

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  • John Smith

    Let’s see…

    1. When a patient comes to a hospital, he gets admitted by a doctor, who gets help from at least one nurse.

    Believe me if you haven’t lived in a country with socialized medicine: you do NOT want nurses and doctors to be underpaid…

    2. When the admitters admit the new patient, a doctor (hospitalist) talks to the patient and orders a series of exams, as needed, for example: blood test, MRI, whatever…

    3. Nurses get the tests done.

    4. By the way: apart from medical professionals’ time, those tests are way more expensive than $1.

    The patient gets transferred to a room with clean linen, clean floor, patient monitor (a device which measures blood pressure and a bunch of other things). Someone gets paid to keep the hospital clean (thus ensuring patients’ safety from bacteria and stuff that’s inevitable in places where there are a lot of sick people).

    Those were some of the obvious things which must be paid for, and I leave it up to readers to decide how much they should cost…

    Here’s another thing:..

    Patients sue.

    The medical system in the U.S. is so regulated that quite often, in order to save a person from imminent death, or from getting even sicker, it happens that hospitals, doctors, nurses do something that causes some damage, real or perceived.

    Examples abound, but here’s one, that a co-worker told me years ago abut why he was suing the hospital: a woman (his wife) was giving birth to a baby, and the baby was literally stuck on his way out. The doctors had to help him and pulled him out. He was stuck pretty well, so while pulling him out, they slightly damaged the kid’s shoulder, and although after several months of physical therapy the kid was perfectly fine, the family ended up with medical bills which, according to the kid’s father who told me this story: “Someone has to pay for this.”

    … so, naturally, they sued the hospital, and according to their lawyer, they had a strong case.

    Consider this: all lawsuits’ costs are spread over the prices of other services, including the cost of a bag of saline.

    Here’s one more thing, if you are still reading…

    Maybe, the manufacturer charges the hospital $1 for a bag of saline, but have you ever researched how much everything else costs? Anything and everything related to medicine, costs a lot. Firstly, because it should be (and it is) high quality stuff: research must be done to prove that, for example, syringes are sterile and contain no harmful material, drugs are produced in a perfect environment (including the same $1 saltwater: it may be priced low, due to some law or regulation, but the cost of creating and keeping a sterile environment must be passed to other products).

    Here’s one more reason why the prices are high:

    as a software developer, I worked on a software program which was to be installed on a next-generation patient monitors: as I mentioned above, those are the things that are hooked up to a patient, beep loudly and show all kinds of measurements. If the patient’s blood pressure (for example) jumps up, or drops, the nurses’ station will receive an alarm, and a whole team of highly skilled, and highly paid (for a good reason!..) medical professionals will come a-running to work on him and hopefully save him.

    That patient I’ve just described: it is unlikely, but theoretically possible, that the only “real” thing that’s been done to treat him so far (in addition to admission and tests), was hooking him to a bag of saline.

    I am sure you understand now why that single bag of saline costs really much more to a hospital than $1, regardless of how much a manufacturer charges them.

    Diagnosing what’s wrong with a patient (especially, if the doctor does not know yet that patient’s medical history and known illnesses) is extremely difficult.

    Please think about it: how many times did your auto mechanic miss something that was wrong with your car?.. But a car is probably 1,000,000 times simpler than a human.

    If a doctor misses something, it’s an almost guaranteed lawsuit. This is the reason why almost everyone gets a whole battery of expensive, and quite often unnecessary, tests.

    Here’s another example of where the money sinkhole is, and that cost must be reimbursed elsewhere, and I am sure ANY doctor can confirm it:

    drug seekers.

    Ask ANY doctor who works in a hospital, and they will tell you how many drug seekers every day they either admit (with all the expensive tests, and all other expenses), or at least prescribe free drugs to.

    Everyone knows what’s going on with that patient: he or she is a drug seeker. But, he claims severe pain, and the doctor has no choice but put him on pain medication, and prescribe free (or cheap) drugs.

    If the doctor refuses to accommodate the wishes of a drug seeker, one of the two things can happen:

    1. Most likely, the doctor/hospital will get sued, and problems will abound.

    2. Sometimes (and I personally have heard of a particular doctor), a doctor gets threatened.

    Have you ever been to a hospital in some hellhole such as Newark or Detroit?.. The patients there are sometimes less than “decent people”.

    A doctor refused to prescribe free painkillers to a known drug seeker. He was threatened. He had a family, and I don’t know the details, but after that incident he was known to prescribe drugs to whoever demanded them.

    Related to our discussion: painkillers and other drugs are expensive. If a hospital gives them away, every day (a lot!..) for free, the hospital must somehow get that money.

    A patient comes to an emergency room claiming he has a chest pain. Doctors must assume he has a heart attack or something like that (sorry, I am not sure… I forgot.). So, he gets several tests done on him, even if the doctor is 100% sure that this particular person is a drug seeker.

    Quite often (probably, almost always) those drug seeking patients do not have medical insurance, and all expenses are paid somehow. Maybe, some of them will be reimbursed by the government (please, don’t get me started on where the government gets “its” money from…). But Medicaid and Medicare dictate how much each procedure and other stuff should cost… regardless of how much it actually costs to a hospital.

    Cost of tests and other expenses?.. Must be spread out to other patients.

    At last, please consider this:

    there are A LOT of hospitals which not only do not make any profits, but actually LOSE money, which continuing to save dozens of people from death every single day, and improving condition of dozens of others.

    If you think that the hospital should just suck it up, swallow the costs, and treat each patient fairly, without overcharging him, you are NOT wrong… but you are NOT right, either.

    If the hospitals do not break even (let alone make some profit), they will simply cease to exist, plain and simple.

    You and I and all of us will end up with a medical system which people enjoy in Cuba, Zimbabwe and other good countries.

    I also hope that you (the reader) know enough about huge problems in medical systems in socialist countries (such as Great Britain), where people have to wait in line for years to get a surgery, or where laws are made (and of course workarounds are used against those laws) because the patients wait for far too many hours in emergency rooms, and so on, and so forth.

    My point is: it costs what it costs, no more and no less.

    There are, I am sure, examples of abuse, just like in any other industry or services.

    Mostly, there are very good reasons why the medical bills are so outrageously high.

    I am neither a doctor nor a nurse. I only know the tip of the iceberg.

    • Jason Gao

      If you were a doctor or a nurse, you wouldn’t speak for pharmaceutical corporations. That’s for sure.

    • NC_lady

      Hospitals cannot bill for nursing services. Because 99% of your care is provided by the nurse, there has to be a way to pay nursing salaries along with everything else you mentioned. Great post!

      • Why can’t a hospital charge for nursing services?

        • NC_lady

          Because Medicare and commercial insurers refuse to pay.

          • Then their customers should receive only what they will pay for until they will pay for what their customers need. If the payers refuse to pay for what they get, they need to get precise value until they come to their senses, or go out of business for lack of business.

  • Gallie

    My daughter went in for a pediatric check up. The doctor spotted a clump of ear wax and removed it so she could check her ears. I then got the bill for $400 just for the ear cleaning alone since insurance didn’t want to pay for the $400 the doctor charged to remove some ear wax. They covered the check up, but not the wax removal which was done in a couple seconds. I later found out that if the nurse removed the wax, it would have been no charge at all. It’s a money making racket.

    • NC_lady

      Shows you how much nurses are undervalued. By the way, the person in the office that everyone thinks is a “Nurse”, is probably an LPN or a Certified Medical Assistant. Nurses are “too expensive” for physician offices.

  • Kathy

    It was recommended by a PT that I replace the wheels on my elderly father’s walker – according to Medicare, wheels should be replaced every 2 years. Unable to purchase only wheels, I found that I would need to purchase an entire walker. Through an online medical equipment source I found an identical walker for about $70 but decided to research local options to avoid shipping costs. Our local supplier of wheelchairs and walkers had what I needed in stock but refused to quote a price unless he had insurance/Medicare information… and at that point he told me the walker would cost $300.00 – for the exact same walker. When I informed him that I could purchase this item for $70 from an online supplier he huffily told me that I wasn’t supporting local businesses. I told him I thought they probably purchased their stock from a similar medical equipment supplier and I felt it was fraudulent to mark a product up so much. I also know that between Medicare and my father’s private insurance they would receive almost 100% reimbursement. Medicare is billed and pays their percentage, the balance is billed to the private insurance company who picks up most of the difference. I’ve seen the billing process for years while handling my father’s financial matters. You can’t tell me that these companies don’t get their over inflated charges paid. This is exactly what skews the entire system.

  • disqus_AHJwAM8cnR

    Wow! It used to be $10 for the aspirin. They eff you in the drive-thru!

  • john q publik

    ha ha funny amerski’s just complain on the net, hah ah ah aha ha ha ha, me boris laugh. when us red’s come for you, you still wont believe any thing. ha ha ha ha ha ha, you all complain and nothing else. go cry amerski’s, we know you not do any thing about your robber companieas and government. ha aha ha ha ha ha ha amerski’s. you get what you asked for by only complaining, do something, oh me boris forget amerski’s are tiny scared kitties. ha ha ha ha, sissy amerski’s keep complaining, i see you when we take your country, ha ha ha ha ha, do svidanya comerades amerski’s.

  • Tatiana Covington

    Why? Cost coverage and profit motive.

  • Rocky

    Remember the 500 $ screwdriver back in the early eighties ? This is nothing new !!! Government is always the problem !

  • craigdc

    Yes the democrats delivered a healthcare monopoly to the corporate state. Expect things to get much worse. The government health complex will be (is) much like the military industrial complex. The easiest and cheapest way to manage health care is to eliminate the sources disease and disability. People should eat healthy no-chemical food and meats, eliminate sugar subsidies and treat sugar like tobacco, take processed and preservative laden foods out of stores and remove antibiotics, growth stimulants and poisons from factory farms. Go back to traditional ways of farming for a start, which result in higher yields and more healthy foods.

  • abinico

    They have to charge that much because of all the lawsuits from the 200,000 yearly deaths caused by the medical industry.

  • Doc Pinball

    $1 per bag.
    If it cost the consumer $2 for a bag, that would be a 100% mark-up…
    So if it cost the consumer $800 a bag, the mark-up would be 79,900% !!!
    For the most abundant compound on the face of earth.
    Granted it’s not directly sea water, it’s filtered, buffered, monitored, and packaged etc.. But,it can’t be so technically complex that it only cost about $1.
    79,900% MARK-UP!!!
    And, they were upset when Epipen was marked up to 600% ?

  • werockk

    It’s ironic that you can’t see what’s right in front of your face. The failed system is government intervention, not private healthcare. And your random assessment at the end with India did nothing but prove your stupidity. You didn’t see the point right next to you. What he said was true. The actual cost of these things to produce is far more complex than what it shows on it’s face. Just like the idiotic $1 meme showed you when you used what little brain you have.

    Concerning the statistics you decided to pull out of your ass, do you have any idea how statistics work? There are far more factors in a populations health than simply healthcare. We have a much lower mortality rate than any other country when it comes to cancer. One of the biggest plagues of modern nations. The simple fact is that America is far more diverse than any other nation on this planet. With that comes multiple cultures that don’t regard eating well the same as others. We have many different types of diseases coming here, many different ethnicity that are more prone to certain diseases than others. Simply put, pretending those number actually show causation to one single factor shows your ignorance of statistics in general.