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Huge hospital markups burden patients

Atlanta Journal Constitution, April 22, 2011

Drew Sheward was installing a yard sprinkler system for a customer when he felt pain in his stomach. The next day Sheward, twisting in agony, drove himself to Northside Hospital-Forsyth and had his appendix removed. Weeks later Sheward, a small business owner who said he cannot afford expensive private insurance, received a hospital bill for $23,483. This is the hospital's full charge, which only the uninsured and a few other groups are expected to pay. If he paid in 90 days, he was told, the hospital would reduce the bill by 40 percent, but he couldn't. "I felt like the doctors had reasonable costs, but I felt like the hospital was trying to steal from me," Sheward said. Hospital officials say Sheward got a reasonable offer. "We believe it is competitive in the marketplace and we believe the payment plan we have in place is fair," said Russ Davis, director of marketing and public relations for Northside Hospital system. Still, Sheward's bill is more than four times the amount Medicare pays for the procedure, said Todd Hill, a medical billing auditor representing Sheward.