Manatee County is blessed with a trauma center for critically injured patients, at Blake Medical Center. As we've opined on numerous occasions, this is a boon to Southwest Florida, hitherto only served by hospitals north of Tampa Bay.
But the high cost that Blake's parent company, Hospital Corporation of America, charges has come under scrutiny thanks to a Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau year-long investigation published this week.The average fee for trauma response for HCA facilities is $28,000 -- the highest in the state. That compares with a state average of only $10,825, and a major increase from only $2,555 in 2006.
Sometimes, these charges are billed to patients who are not severely injured but have the extreme misfortune of being transported to a trauma unit, the bureau report stated. (Truth be told, ambulance personnel must follow a strict protocol in determining an injury as trauma, but patients "are obviously in no condition to comparison shop," as the bureau report also noted.
This came to light as HCA battles legacy trauma units over approval of their opening of three HCA centers. The Florida House is considering legislation that would shelter those centers, including Blake's, from legal challenges.
While we appreciate the far quicker emergency medical care that Blake can provide versus a time-wasting helicopter or ambulance ride into Tampa or St. Petersburg, the high charges reflect the troublesome nature of the American health industry.
While patient outcomes should be the focus, at what point is the system unreasonably expensive?