Parents charged $15,666 trauma fee after baby takes nap, drinks formula in ER

In 2016, South Korean tourists rode in an ambulance to San Francisco-based Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital after their 8-month-old son fell and hit his head in a hotel room. Physicians quickly determined the child was OK. Two years later, the family received an $18,836 bill for the visit, with the bulk of the bill reflecting a "trauma activation" fee, according to Vox.

Here are five takeaways from the report:

1. Jang Yeo-im called an ambulance after her son Park Jeong-whan fell 3 feet off a hotel bed. Despite little outward injury, her son was inconsolable and she feared he might have internal injuries. During the three hour and 22 minute visit at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, a triage nurse evaluated Jang Yeo-im's son and sent him to an emergency department resuscitation bay. Aside from minor bruising to his nose and forehead, the baby did not show any signs of major injury and was not given any critical care. During his time at the hospital, he took a quick nap, drank formula and was transferred to an exam room for observation before being released.

2. When the family, which had travel insurance covering $5,000 of treatment, received the final $18,836 bill two years later, most of the charge reflected a $15,666 trauma response fee. Patients face trauma fees when they present to the emergency room with potential serious injuries, and the trauma center assembles a team of physicians to respond. Trauma fees are billed in addition to ER physician, procedure, equipment and facility fees.

3. Except for Medicare beneficiaries and state hospitals, hospitals often have jurisdiction over how much the fees can be. The fees are usually higher than $10,000 and vary considerably among hospitals.

4. The average price health insurers paid for hospital trauma activation fees in 2016 was $3,968. On the low end of the spectrum, hospitals received $725 from payers, while those on the high end got $13,525, according to Vox, which cites data from the Health Care Cost Institute.

5. While patients can face the brunt of the trauma fee depending on insurance, trauma centers argue the charges are needed to cover the cost of training and ensuring a full trauma team is ready to assist patients 24/7. Brent Andrew, a spokesperson for Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, told Vox, "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. It's expensive to prepare for that."

For the full report, including other stories about trauma fees, read the report by Jenny Gold of Kaiser Health News and Sarah Kliff of Vox.

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