Huge health bill shock for seniors visiting elderly mother
An uninsured senior who was treated by emergency room doctors for two bouts of dizziness has been sent a bill for almost $12,000 by the Bermuda Hospitals Board.
Lloyd Williams, 77, and his wife, Mildred, 70, were stunned to receive two invoices totalling $11,740, including more than $7,000 for diagnostic scans.
“It’s hard to fathom,” Mrs Williams told The Royal Gazette. “We can’t afford to pay it.”
The Bermudian couple live in Nevis, in the West Indies, and were visiting Bermuda in September to care for Mr Williams’s 105-year-old mother, Mary.
Mr Williams, a retired musician, became dizzy and nauseous on September 2 and went to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on the advice of a local clinic.
He was there for about eight hours while tests were carried out, including a CT scan of his head and an electrocardiogram to check his heart.
Mr Williams had to wait in a hallway to see medics because no room was available, apparently owing to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Four days later, he felt unwell again and returned to the ER. He had another battery of tests during his eight-hour stay, including more CT scans and another electrocardiogram.
The bulk of the fees listed on his two bills — $7,474 — were for CT scans.
The amount for seeing an emergency room doctor was $566 for the first visit and $1,074 for the second, when his case was deemed more serious.
Mrs Williams said that doctors found a small cyst on the back of her husband’s neck but reassured him that it was nothing to worry about.
The couple left Bermuda to return to Nevis later that month and Mr Williams has not been well since.
The hefty bill from the BHB came as a shock, according to Mrs Williams, who runs a small souvenir shop for tourists in Nevis.
“I was wondering if they were going to send us a bill,” she said. “It took a long time. They eventually sent it through their overseas billing agent.
“Even if we have some savings that doesn’t mean we can afford to pay that kind of a bill. We saved to pay for our old age.”
The couple do not have health insurance in Nevis and did not take out travel insurance for their trip to Bermuda.
Mrs Williams said they had previously been told that they could take out a HIP or FutureCare policy here but for a much higher premium than for residents.
“It was something we couldn’t afford,” she said. “We are Bermudians whether we live there or not. If we are Bermudians, it should be a price for Bermudians.
“We spent all our working lives there and we come back frequently.”
She said the amount of the BHB bill was hard to understand and it was no wonder many Bermudians were struggling to survive financially.
“I’m Bermudian, I love Bermuda, but I’m glad I’m not there,” Mrs Williams added.
She has spoken to BHB’s accounts department and is expecting a call back next month to discuss repayment.
A BHB spokeswoman said fees were set by law and prices were double for overseas visitors.
She added: “While anyone travelling should ensure they have health insurance to cover any unanticipated health needs, depending on individual circumstances we will work with people on an affordable repayment schedule.”
The spokeswoman said anyone without health insurance would be billed and patients were informed of that upon admission.
“They are given a form to review and sign which ensures they are aware there will be a cost to any care provided.
“Clinicians delivering care will not know the fees of the different diagnostics, so can't advise on fees during care — they will do what is clinically required — but care costs will be based on the types and number of treatments and tests given, and if specialist consultants are required, above the basic emergency visit fee.”
Ricky Brathwaite, CEO of Bermuda Health Council, advised anyone travelling to look into health insurance and said policies could cost less than $100.
“We understand that it adds to the cost of a trip, but it can be a protective tool in case of unforeseen circumstances,” he said.
“You can often find the cost of healthcare services online as part of your determination of whether you want to purchase travel insurance or not. For example, the BHB fee schedule can be found online.”
Dr Brathwaite noted that the exchange rate in Nevis was about 3 to 1, making the bill an expense of more than $35,000 in east Caribbean dollars.
“This is an example of unexpected health expenses potentially leading to financial hardship,” he said. “This type of situation is too common in healthcare, which is why we have put such an emphasis on the tenets of Universal Health Coverage.”
He added: “ … we are in the process of doing a health technology assessment in respect of diagnostic imaging. This includes CT and as part of that assessment will look at the impact of pricing on the market.”