Hospitals are making extra money these days by marking up bills. The practice is known as "upcoding." One recent egregious example: a pregnant woman was "instructed to go through the emergency room doors at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., because it was the only entrance open." She gave a normal birth — no emergency – and yet the hospital billed her for emergency services.
The total bill was huge, but what really made Wells Salerno's eyes pop was the whopping $2,755 charge for "Level 5" emergency services included in that total. It didn't make any sense.
Emergency room visits are coded from Level 1 to Level 5, with each higher level garnering more generous reimbursement, in theory commensurate with the work required. Dr. Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco and a practicing ER doctor, says Level 5 charges are supposed to be reserved for serious cases — "a severe threat to life, or very complicated, resource-intense cases" — not for patients who can walk through a hospital on their own.