Better Solutions for Healthcare

Mission Local: Hospitals mobilizing to kill legislation that would prevent hospitals from gouging you

Late last month, we introduced you to Conan Mattisson, a 40-year-old Mission Street resident who inadvertently plunged a knife into his dominant right hand deep enough that he could peer in and observe his tendons moving around.

This is neither a healthy nor productive way to spend a Thursday evening. He headed to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, received a single stitch in a five-minute procedure, and was sent home. Then the bill arrived: $3,321.

Mattisson is an unemployed former bicycle messenger. He has experienced bouts of homelessness in recent years and has, in the not-too-distant past, been on food stamps. He is also uninsured. Separate and apart from the surreal lunacy of a single stitch costing as much as a new one-bedroom apartment (which is also surreal lunacy, but one thing at a time), this is simply not a cost he can incur.

The jarring nature of Mattisson’s story garnered a fair bit of attention — though it’s not clear if anyone at ZSFGH with a capacity to help has done so.

One person who might be able to help, however, is Mattisson’s assemblyman, David Chiu. And Mattisson’s plight was of particular interest to him.

Following articles from Sarah Kliff, then at Vox, and a series from the Chronicle’s Heather Knight, it was revealed that ZSFGH was, to a particularly onerous degree, engaging in “balance billing” — sticking patients for the portion of their debt that insurance providers didn’t deign to cover. And, because of the way ZSFGH is structured, these could be life-altering sums: Since the hospital is out-of-network for private insurers, even covered patients requiring emergency care were finding themselves stuck with five- and six-digit bills dwarfing Mattisson’s.

On the heels of media scrutiny and political pressure, ZSFGH in February publicly disavowed this practice. Chiu has introduced a bill, AB1611, that would require every hospital in the state to follow suit and stop bankrupting patients.

To be clear, Chiu’s bill deals with insured patients, not uninsured ones like Mattisson. But the former bike messenger’s ordeal is still germane. “ZSFGH originally said it needed to surprise privately insured patients with huge bills to make up for treating the uninsured and publicly insured patients,” Chiu wrote in a tweet. But then it charges an uninsured patient $3,300 for one stitch? ”