Reporter Sarah Kliff’s year-long investigation into emergency room billing practices ended in May 2019. Vox collected bills from 2,100 patients and published more than a dozen stories that led to changes in hospital billing practices and the cancellation of more than $100,000 in patient medical debt, and inspired state and national legislative proposals.
The patient database is now being analyzed by academic researchers who want to better understand how emergency room billing works, and how those practices affect patients. We hope to share the results of their analysis with you soon.
Americans make 141 million trips to the emergency room each year. Patients only learn how much their care costs after they leave and receive a bill — which can often be surprisingly high.
Kliff wanted to bring more transparency to these common but little-understood emergency room practices, which is why she launched this project. Vox collected more than 2,100 patient bills from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, bringing light to an opaque system.
Kliff discovered that the largest public hospital in San Francisco was out of network with all private health insurance — a fact that had been secret until our reporting. She looked at what it means for patients when health insurers won’t cover emergency room bills that they deem “non-urgent” — and why the lifesaving rabies vaccine can cost thousands of dollars when delivered in an ER setting.
If you’re dealing with a high emergency room bill, you may want to read our story on how other patients have negotiated down their charges. If you’re trying to reach Sarah, you can email her here.