Nicole Vlaming’s $17,000 Bill For A Mental Health Emergency In Arizona

Nicole Vlaming posted a picture of a $17,000 emergency room after she went in for a mental health crisis

  • Vlaming’s post has been shared over 50,000 times since it was shared on November 1

  • Hospitals across the country have been found to charge patients for a more complex levels of care than they receive

  • A study showed ambulance rides decreased in areas where ride services such as Uber entered their markets

America is plagued with mental health issues which have led to countless mass shootings, suicides, and countless other serious issues. It is a situation that appears to be getting worse, not better, as Nicole Vlaming just found out after seeking help for a mental health crisis.

Vlaming made a post on Facebook on November 1 describing what happened when she went to Banner Thunderbird Medical Center’s emergency room in Glendale, Arizona during a suicidal mental health emergency. The post includes a bill for three days of subpar treatment that totals $16,904.

Vlaming’s post has been shared over 56,000 times since she shared it. In the post, Vlaming claims the therapy in the behavioral health was scaled backed since it was a weekend. She even claimed that one therapy session consisted of nothing more than playing trivia. According to the bill, Vlaming was charged almost $10,000 for her two days stay, $3,800 to have blood drawn, $145 for three days worth of medication and another $3,000 for using the emergency room.

It’s time to go public with this shit. Two weeks ago today, I walked into the ER because if I didn’t I was going to kill myself. I was stripped of all my clothes and possessions, given disposable scrubs and put in a room for the next 5 hours. In the US, this costs nearly $3,000. I was then placed in the behavioral health ward until Sunday at noon. Three nights, two and a half days. Because it was a weekend, all therapy was scaled back, both in number of sessions and the quality of sessions. During one we simply played a trivia game. I sat around watching TV all day and chatting with a Vietnam vet. In the US this costs nearly $10,000. During this stay, I had blood drawn twice. That was another $3,800. Not shown are the “physician charges” that bring my grand total to over $18,000. I saw an MD once and had once daily sessions with a psychiatrist. Those sessions consisted of rating my depression on scale of 1-10 and asking if I want to hurt myself or anyone else. Real stellar care. /s Oh, I almost forgot to point out the $145 for 3 days worth of meds. I normally pay less than $50 for an entire month.

My employer sponsored insurance does not cover inpatient mental health care in any capacity. I do have a supplemental insurance plan that will hopefully cover $6,000, leaving me on the hook for over $12,000.

You want to know why people don’t seek help? This is why.

People from other countries with more affordable healthcare have been commenting on the post. Most are in total shock that American hospitals would charge this much to a person seeking help during a mental health crisis. If Vlaming had been able to see a normal doctor outside of emergency care the total would have been much lower. Unfortunately, emergencies don’t pay attention to business operating hours, but it is possible Vlaming is being charged for a higher level of care than she received.

When it comes to a trip to the emergency room you are at the mercy of the hospital’s facility costs, which drastically fluctuate around the country. Usually, these fees will go from a scale of 1-5 to reflect the complexity of the level of care the patient needs. A year-long investigation conducted by Vox and Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) showed these prices raised 89 percent between 2009 and 2015.

In the investigation, 70 million insurance bills for emergency room visits between 2009 and 2015 were analyzed. The overall spending on emergency room fees went up $3 billion during that time period. Oddly enough, HCCI showed a two percent drop in emergency fee bills during the same time period that spending was increasing.

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At the end of the day, the real reason why these emergency room fees are so high is that it is a monopoly. Plain and simple. When you own the entire market you get the luxury of setting the price. Over the years it is evident that hospitals are increasingly using the higher more complex codes to bill people extra for routine issues.

In 2012, the Center for Public Integrity conducted an investigation that found hospitals brought in an extra $1 billion from Medicare revenue by using level 5 codes for billing. With Medicare being the primary coverage of people over 65, it became clear that hospitals were charging significantly higher charges for routine visits.

The Obama administration responded to the discovery of the investigation by proposing to do away with the different level of care fees at emergency rooms and instead forcing them to use one standard fee for all visits. The proposal never saw the light of day after receiving large amounts of backlash from the medical emergency industry.

It’s not just emergency rooms that are breaking banks. The numbers of Americans using ride services such as Uber instead of ambulances is increasing as well. A study showed that in areas where these ride services operate, there was at least a 7% drop in ambulance rides from 2013-2015 as Uber entered areas around the country. Ambulance rides are another growing expense as problems continue to flourish between EMS and government payments.

A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that Medicare normally paid -1 percent in reimbursements rates for EMS. Meaning, Medicare reimburses less than the actual cost of the trip. Medicaid paid roughly 40 percent less than Medicare. Once the government begins not paying reimbursements it is only a matter of time before insurance companies follow the government’s lead.



About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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