Quiz: how much do you think an all expenses-included, 5-day trip to the ICU costs?


If you’re tired of all your money and want to blow it away at a rate generally impossible, try getting too sick and rolling the dice!

But I am long over the pneumonia now and this is about how much things cost.  The person who guesses the total billed cost of this exotic vacation (closest but not to exceed) will receive something awesome from me!  Unless I don’t know you, but let’s face it: that is unlikely.  In the meantime I will give you some clues by way of lessons learned about winding up in the hospital:

  1. Don’t bother going to your regular doctor first.  When I woke up that morning, I knew I had to get to a doctor.  I did not think I needed to go to the hospital.  What they taught me at the hospital was that if you feel like you absolutely need to get to the doctor and it cannot wait, you probably need to go to the hospital instead.  And unfortunately for me, “care for a critically ill patient” is billed by my doctor’s office at the rate of $856/visit rather than the usual $250/visit.  If I had known all this I would not have bothered with that!
  2. Get to the right hospital the first time.  Only a hospital virgin like I would have the poor sense to allow myself to be sent to a little local hospital, only to find that I was in deeper shit than that and would need to go onto the larger regional hospital.  So instead of one ambulance rushing me to one hospital, two abulances rushed me to two hospitals.  More ambulances, more problems.  To the tune of $2700/ambulance!
  3. Avoid the ambulance if possible.  Most amulance companies are not covered as part of the United Healthcare HSA network.  However the urgent need for care and the typical trade-off that you will not be prioritized if you drive in make the ambulance seem imperative in some situations.  So, you know, it’s a trade-off.  But a dumb one.  What is insurance for if it does not cover all emergency services?!
  4. If you have to do all this, only do it until New Year’s Eve.  I learned that claims are processed based on the year in which the service was rendered, not the year in which the claim was processed.  Since my whole ordeal was 12/24 – 12/28, these costs were fortunately all billed to 2014.  I hit my out of pocket max for 2014, but that is probably better than having charges go against my 2015 deductible which I thought was the case.  So you need to wrap everything up and pull a Kill Bill on 12/31 if you do not want your next year’s deductible double-dipped.
  5. Obviously try not to let yourself get this sick!  A sick day or two and a normal visit to your doctor at the normal “before the shit hits the fan” rate of $250/visit is obviously worth avoiding all this insanity.  In my case, I made the mistake of thinking I was catching aother bug when really it was my same bug from November coming back for round two: thunderdome.

So now with some facts handy, what do you think was the total cost of this exotic vacation?  Don’t forget the following separately billable items:

  • the 4 days and nights of intensive care
  • the X-ray (false negative)
  • the CT scan (useful)
  • the heart ultrasound (unnecessary)
  • the IV fluids and drugs once the CT scan identified pneumonia
  • the many IV lines they had to place while my veins got irritated (about 6)
  • the blood gas analysis
  • the various other drugs: inhaled steroids; anti-nausea drug and anxiety drug to counteract the effects of the inhaled steroids, various horse-sized vitamin pills
  • the ER visit at the first hospital

Good luck!

7 thoughts on “Quiz: how much do you think an all expenses-included, 5-day trip to the ICU costs?

  1. I think that your visit to the hospital(s) ran up about a $300K – $400K bill, I don’t even want to participate is such a contest, but it must have been a hefty total.

    I guessed that vague amount, btw, based on my friend’s mother’s hospitalization from a Friday to a Monday. Not an ICU visit, not even for surgery, but to have her medication adjusted, and the cost for her weekend snooze was $26,000. So, your visit in the ICU must have had the calculators roaring!

    This subject is one that I usually avoid thinking about because the answer and all of it’s ramifications is simply beyond my ken, But, my question is . . . how and why have hospital visits become so expensive? Why does an Advil cost fifty bucks in hospital? I have wondered if hospitals are owned and operated the organism called a ‘hedge fund’ which deliberately soaks everybody involved?

    I need to take a class! And you need to stay well!

    • I do wonder about costs from hospital to hospital, and region to region. There was a piece on 60 minutes I think about outrageous bills coming out of “nonprofit” hospitals. The expert interviewed indicated that the only factor that distinguishes a “nonprofit” hospital from a “for profit” hospital is that nonprofit hospitals do not have to pay taxes. I am surprised therefore that not all hospitals have successfully identified themselves as nonprofit! Or maybe they are all trying.

      • One of the issues at hand may be the fact that as of some years ago, Medicare no longer had to shop for good pricing. Why or how this occurred, I do not know. But what I think this means, for an imaginary example, is that rather than looking for a contract for Tylenol pills to be purchased at cents per pill, they are purchased at $50.00 per pill. Medicare would have been the insurance paying for a my friend’s mother’s four day simple hospital visit for the purpose of adjusting medication levels.

    • It’s a good guess, at the lower end of the range of the guesses I received and therefore closer to the actual cost. Thanks for playing John!

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