Kyunghee Lee’s right hand hurts all the time.
She spent decades running a family dry cleaning store outside Cleveland after emigrating from South Korea 40 years ago. She still freelances as a seamstress, although work has slowed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Lee likes to treat her arthritis with home remedies, each year the pain in the knuckles of her right middle finger and ring finger increases until they hurt too much to touch. So about once a year she goes to see a rheumatologist, who administers a pain-relieving injection of a steroid in the joints of those fingers.
Her cost for each round of injections has been roughly $30 the past few years. And everything is easier, and less painful for a bit, after each steroid treatment.
So, in late summer she masked up and went in for her usual shots. She noticed her doctor’s office had moved up a floor in the medical building, but everything else seemed just the same as before — same injections, same doctor.
Then the bill came.
The Patient: Kyunghee Lee, a 72-year-old retiree with UnitedHealthcare AARP Medicare Advantage Walgreens insurance who lives in Mentor, Ohio
Medical Service: Steroid injections into arthritic finger joints
Service Provider: University Hospitals Mentor Health Center, part of the University Hospitals health system in northeastern Ohio
Total bill: $1,394, including a $1,262 facility fee listed as “operating room services.” The balance included a clinic charge and a pharmacy charge. Lee’s portion of the bill was $354.68.