Report: HCA Leads Florida Hospitals in Trauma Fees

 A two-part, yearlong investigative series from the Tampa Bay Times has found Florida hospitals are charging exorbitant fees for trauma services, and hospitals owned by Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America have set the most "outrageous" rates.

In part one, reporters found that since 2006, Florida's 25 hospital trauma centers have charged trauma fees to at least 120,000 patients, with nearly all of them unaware of it until they receive their billing statements. The Tampa Bay Times found the single-time charges are as high as $33,000, with the average fee hovering around $10,000. The charges didn't start to appear in hospital trauma units until 2002, when a trauma care lobbying group pitched the idea to the national committee that approves new hospital billing categories.

Overall, the trauma fees, which are added on top of the charges for actual care, have cost Florida patients more than $500 million since 2010. However, reporters said hospitals do not often collect every dollar they charge for the trauma fees, much like how hospitals do not collect full chargemaster prices.

According to part two of the Tampa Bay Times report, HCA hospitals exploited the trauma fee system the most. The for-profit HCA has six trauma centers in Florida, and the report found patients who went through an HCA hospital for trauma care had an average bill of almost $125,000, or $40,000 more than other trauma centers in the state.

Despite the high charges, the investigation found HCA's trauma patients generally have the same injury severity as other hospitals.

HCA owns 45 hospitals throughout Florida, representing about a quarter of its total hospital portfolio. A spokesperson for HCA released a statement to the Times, saying: "Providing trauma services requires highly specialized teams of caregivers, equipment and processes that have to be available 24/7. Our activation fees directly reflect the actual cost in each community of mobilizing these resources for patients who receive trauma care."

The newspaper's investigation actually forced one hospital, UF Health Shands in Gainesville, to decrease its trauma fee from $10,000 to $4,000. "The fees are so high and out-of-kilter to our costs," UF Health Shands CEO Tim Goldfarb told the Times, noting that the hospital had to raise its fees to keep up with other hospitals.

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