Better Solutions for Healthcare

Modern Healthcare: In alleged healthcare ‘money grab,’ nation’s largest hospital chain cashes in on trauma centers

By Jay Hancock

June 14, 2021

After falling from a ladder and cutting his arm, Ed Knight said, he found himself at Richmond, Virginia’s Chippenham Hospital surrounded by nearly a dozen doctors, nurses and technicians — its crack “trauma team” charged with saving the most badly hurt victims of accidents and assaults.

But Knight’s wound, while requiring about 30 stitches, wasn’t life-threatening. Hospital records called it “mild.” The people in white coats quickly scattered, he remembered, and he went home about three hours later.

“Basically, it was just a gash on my arm,” said Knight, 71. “The emergency team that they assembled didn’t really do anything.”

Nevertheless, Chippenham, owned by for-profit chain HCA Healthcare, included a $17,000 trauma team “activation” fee on Knight’s bill, which totaled $52,238 and included three CT scans billed at $14,000. His care should have cost closer to $3,500 total, according to claims consultant WellRithms, which analyzed the charges for KHN.

HCA Healthcare’s activation fees run as high as $50,000 per patient and are sometimes 10 times greater than those at other hospitals, according to publicly posted price lists. Such charges have made trauma centers, once operated mainly by established teaching hospitals, a key part of the company’s growth and profit-generating strategy, corporate officials have said. HCA’s stock has doubled in three years. The biggest U.S. hospital operator along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, HCA has opened trauma centers in more than half its 179 hospitals and says it runs 1 of every 20 such facilities in the country.

And it’s not slowing down.