For most men, the experience of holding their newborn baby for the first time is priceless.
But for Ryan Grassley, the price tag was a bit lower — $39.95 to be exact.
That’s the amount that showed up on Grassley’s itemized bill from a hospital in Utah for “skin-to-skin” time after his son’s cesarean delivery.
Grassley told CBS News that his experience at Utah Valley Hospital was great.
Still, he was so amused by the unusual hospital charge that he posted an image of the bill on Reddit, where it has been upvoted almost 7,000 times.
The post has received over 6 million views on Imgur, where commenters have become very vocal.
“Eventually you'll happily pay $39 to have someone else hold your baby,” said user KristineNoel.
“Naming them is another $85.76, or you can just let the hospital do it for you for free,” said MakingUpAUsernameIsTerrifying42.
In response to requests from CBS News, a hospital spokesperson said that the “skin-to-skin” charge is not for holding the infant, but for an extra nurse to be present for the safety of the baby.
A captive audience
Not all comments on Imgur, though, were meant to be understood as humorous.
User Dasht2 wrote, “When my wife and I had our youngest 3 years ago, a teaspoon of Vaseline costs 80.00! You can get a gal. tub for 5.00 at the store!”
With a long stay in the hospital, even less extreme charges can add up.
Reader’s Digest offered examples of other overpriced hospital items:
- single Tylenol pill: $15, which can add up to $345 for an average patient stay
- a box of tissues (sometimes listed as a “mucus recovery system”): $8
- nonsterile gloves, one pair: $53, or $5,141 for an average patient stay
- having a nurse hand your pills to you so you can take them by mouth: $6.25 each time, or $87.50 for an average patient stay
Even medications can be marked up. For inpatients, their drugs may be covered as part of their stay. Other patients may see the drugs show up on their bills as separate charges.
“I always recommend people bring their medication,” Adria Gross, founder of MedWise Insurance Advocacy, and author of “Solved! Curing Your Medical Insurance Problems,” told Healthline in an email.
Gross added that patients may need to request permission from the hospital to continue using these prescription drugs during their visit.
Her advice works for other overpriced items, as well.
“Hospitals always charge separately for medication as well as bandages, toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, etc. I even tell people to bring their own health and beauty supplies,” said Gross.
Paying through the finger
Another Imgur user pointed out another common source of unexpected hospital charges is “facility fees.”
“I had to pay $1,300 for the nursery that my daughter never went to, when I confronted [the hospital], they said it ‘was available’ to us,” said GnashVillain.
Malcolm Bird had a similar experience when he took his 1-year-old daughter to the emergency room last year, as reported by Vox.
The girl’s finger had been cut while her mother was trying to trim her daughter’s nails. As new parents, Bird and his wife wanted to err on the side of caution. At the hospital, the doctor ran her finger under water and put a bandage on it.
The cost? $629.
Bird’s insurance company negotiated the price down to $440.30. He contested the charge, but the hospital didn’t budge.
In response, the hospital’s chief executive sent him a letter explaining that the Band-Aid only cost $7. The rest of the bill was for seeing the doctor and using the emergency department — fees that keep the facility running.
Bird’s unpaid bill eventually ended up at a collection agency. But after a reporter from Vox contacted the hospital, the hospital reversed the charges.
Outrageous and highly variable
Emergency room fees, in particular, can come as a shock to patients.
“Very often I see emergency room fees for $15,000 to $50,000. This happens well too often with less than an hour of service,” said Gross. “I have even seen bandages needed, with charges of $10,000 to $15,000 in an emergency room.”
There is also a lot of variability among hospital fees.
One study found that emergency room charges ranged from $275 to $6,662 at different hospitals for the same intensity of visits.
Gross recalled one patient being billed $8,000 for a head CT that normally costs $212 to $400.
In a 2013 Time magazine story, Steven Brill said this kind of unpredictable cost variation makes the healthcare market less of a market and more of a “crapshoot.”
Overpriced items, though, are not the only billing problems that patients need to be on the lookout for.
Sometimes the same procedure can show up two or three times on a hospital bill. Supplies may also be charged separately when they should be included in the surgical fee. Or patients may be billed for services that were never provided.
It’s unclear how often patients pay without noticing these kinds of errors. But Gross recommends that patients stay alert before, during, and after their visit to the hospital. This will ensure they’re aware of the services they’re receiving and will notice if mistakes appear on their bill.
“On average there are 75 to 80 percent of bills with errors,” said Gross. “You always need to check whether there are duplicate claims. And make sure the medical provider has seen you if you are being billed for the services.”