Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lifeguard gets billed $2600 for saving boy's life...

That's a pretty inflammatory title, isn't it?  Looks like some poor lifeguard was stuck with a big bill just for doing the right thing.  I thought the same thing, which is why I clicked on the link to the Yahoo! story about 17 year old John Clark, a trained lifeguard from Vancouver, Washington.

Clark was nearby when a 12 year old boy got caught in the surf off the coast of Oregon.  Clark ran into the surf and swam out to him.  He calmed the boy and kept him afloat until the two could be picked up by a watercraft.  Once on dry land, Clark and the 12 year old were taken by ambulance to a hospital.  According to the article, Clark believed this was standard procedure, which it was, since Clark is still legally a minor.  

The article implied that Clark wasn't seriously injured during the rescue and was simply "checked out" at the hospital.  What Clark didn't realize is that he-- or more likely his parents-- would be billed for the ambulance ride, the emergency room visit, and the physician who examined him.  The grand total was over $2600, with the largest portion coming from the 15 mile $1900 ambulance ride.

I read with interest the outraged comments from the peanut gallery.  It seems that a lot of Yahoo! readers don't think the lifeguard should have had to pay for the ambulance ride, emergency room, or physician's services.  As a person with a background in healthcare administration, I just had to scratch my head.  If the lifeguard wasn't billed for his medical care, exactly who should have been?  Do people really expect hospitals to just hand out free health care to people who happen to get sick or injured doing good deeds?  I'd like to know whose job it would be to determine which situations should be billable.  Seems like a policy like that could quickly turn into a very slippery slope.

The fact that John Clark rescued the 12 year old is irrelevant to the bean counters at the hospital.  People end up at the hospital for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes it's their own fault.  Sometimes it's not.  Sometimes they get hurt or sick doing a good deed.  Sometimes they get hurt or sick committing crimes.  The circumstances that brought John Clark to the emergency room were neither here nor there.  The fact is, he did present at an ER for care.  Like everyone else, he had to be billed for services rendered.  And it doesn't matter to the bean counters who actually pays the bill, as long as it gets paid or a reasonable settlement is made.  

Now, if this incident had happened while Clark was on the job, I would imagine the related expenses would be eligible for worker's compensation.  Or hopefully, as a 17 year old, he is still covered by his parents' health insurance.  If not, the state would likely pick up the bill via Medicaid.  In any case, I don't expect that he, personally, would be on the hook for $2600, even if he was uninsured.

Besides, hospitals deal with bad debt all the time; that's why it costs so much to go to them for medical treatment.  As it stands now, two people have donated the money to pay Clark's bill, which is a nice, but probably unnecessary, gesture.

But that headline is an attention grabber, isn't it?  


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