Vox’s Sarah Kliff has spent the past year investigating emergency room billing. She’s read more than 1,100 bills that readers have sent in. Today at 3 pm ET/12 pm PT, you can join her on Reddit to ask her anything about her work.
There are 141 million visits to the emergency room each year, and nearly all of them have a charge for something called a facility fee, which is the price of walking through the door and seeking service. It does not include any care provided.
Emergency rooms argue that these fees are necessary to keep their doors open, so they can be ready 24/7 to treat anything from a sore back to a gunshot wound. But there is also wide variation in how much hospitals charge for these fees, raising questions about how they are set and how closely they are tethered to overhead costs.
Most hospitals do not make these fees public. Patients typically learn what their emergency room facility fee is when they receive a bill weeks later. The fees can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s why Vox is running a year-long investigation into emergency room facility fees, to better understand how much they cost and how they affect patients.
In the latest story in the series, Senior Policy Correspondent Sarah Kliff reviewed 49 bills from five San Francisco hospitals submitted to Vox’s ER billing database and found that Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital consistently has the highest facility fees in the area.
Zuckerberg General’s emergency room fees are also higher, on average, than ERs nationally and in the state of California. In the city, they’ve charged up to five times as much. The fees are set by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which has voted for steady increases, doubling the charge since 2010. You can read the full story here.