My Apology Letter to the Insurance Companies

US News

I have yet to meet anyone who thinks our current health care system is perfect, or even functioning well. As it turns out, insurance companies are not the criminal. They're just the accomplice.

I cut into my finger pretty deeply this December while working in my garage. "Working in my garage" is the phrase I use to sound cooler --really, I was trying to cut a cable tie and I slipped. I quickly drove to the Sherman Oaks Hospital emergency room. I could still drive --it wasn't my middle finger.

Two hours later, I learned it was just surface damage, and I received five stitches. Two weeks later, I received a bill for $2,807.35. It seemed extreme, so I asked for an itemized version. The FCC should look into itemized hospital bills, because mine was completely obscene.

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I'm a pretty healthy 34-year-old man who avoids most things that can hurt me. I hadn't been to an emergency room since I was 11 and broke my finger playing basketball. "Playing basketball" is the phrase I use to sound cooler -- really, I was dribbling by myself and I slipped.

The bill was divided into four sections; three were for supplies and one was for service. The service cost $1,449.20, and $498 was for the "wound repair; simple." Another $158 was for "admin." And $793.20 was for "ER Visit -- Level 3." I'm guessing that's the lowest level, as I can't think of any ER visit that requires less attention than an owie on my piggy. I was in a LOT of pain, but not when I got to the hospital. Whatever they did with those stitches hurt more than I've ever been hurt before. I'll never understand that pain of childbirth, but I feel like I got a bit closer every day until those stitches came out.

I understand the $1,449.20 I was charged for the labor, overhead and just generally having doctors on call. I also understand that until everyone is insured, we all pay the bills of those who don't pay anything. What I don't understand is how five stitches and some antiseptic could have cost $1,358.15.

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I began Googling to see what the actual retail was. Not at drug stores -- but from medical suppliers. You know, the places where hospitals shop. I took the cheapest exact match of the product they used, never went past the first few results and didn't even factor in buying in bulk. The hospital had charged me $1,358.15 for just over $100 worth of supplies. Now I was in emotional pain, too.

A 500 milliliter bottle of saline retails for $2.27. I was charged $99. A laceration tray retails for $3.14. I was charged $125. A disposable finger cuff retails for $6.51. I was charged $119. And so on. The markups on my bill would make even the most crooked mechanic sick. And then the hospital would probably charge him several thousand dollars for getting sick.

Before you call me a drain on the system, let me make this clear -- I pay for insurance. Really good insurance. Really expensive insurance. The kind of insurance that should cover everything. Except, apparently, an owie on my piggy.

My insurance covered all but $673 of the bill. I don't know how the insurance company arrived at that number (and they wouldn't tell me when I asked). So I called the hospital to point out that they accidentally added the price of a week of medical school on my bill.

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I spoke to two billing staff members and a supervisor. The first one threatened me with collections and the ruin of my credit if I didn't pay immediately. The second said "it costs what it costs." And the supervisor told me that there was absolutely no markup on supplies, and this is just what the hospital pays for them. She didn't appreciate when I told her that they were clearly getting ripped off, because only a crook would charge anyone that much for a bottle of saline.

The conversation reminded me of the "f--- you, pay me" scene from Goodfellas. This was not a hospital -- this was a business. Which would be fine with me, but there is no free market when it comes to hospitals.

It is illegal to open a hospital across the street from Sherman Oaks Hospital. Or even a few miles away. There are government regulations preventing hospitals from competing with each other. We do not have choices when it comes to hospitals, other than "bleed or pay." Which would be an excellent slogan for the Sherman Oaks Hospital. That, or "f--- you, pay me."

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When I got the stitches removed, my doctor told me that not only did they incorrectly put one of the stitches touching a nerve (which is why I was in so much pain), but they also used five stitches when they should have used eight. My finger will never heal properly because of that, and I thought about suing for malpractice. Then I realized that they were just trying to save me money. By their calculations, three more sutures would have cost another grand.

Steve Hofstetter is a standup comedian based in Los Angeles, who will forever be extremely careful while handling a box cutter.

Steve Hofstetter, who has a whopping 20 million views on YouTube, has been on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and "E! True Hollywood Story," "Comics Unleashed," "Comedy All-Stars," "Quite Frankly," "White Boyz in the Hood," "Countdown" and more. He will be in Adam Carolla's new movie, and he's currently starring in a national commercial for JDate. His last album reached No. 1 on iTunes' comedy charts, and he's parlayed his success into ownership of comedy clubs in Louisville and Indianapolis. He performs 300 live dates a year, and reached over half a million friends on Facebook and MySpace. He's a former columnist for Sports Illustrated and the NHL, and he's also written for Maxim and The New York Times, among others.

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