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After accident, patient crashes into $700,000 bill for spine surgery

Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Mark Gottlieb’s life changed in an instant when another driver crashed into his car, damaging four vertebrae in his upper spine and smashing six teeth.

In the months following that January 2019 crash, Gottlieb got the teeth crowned and, for debilitating neck pain, tried injections, chiropractic care and physical therapy. The treatments were all covered by his car insurance.

New Jersey law, as in 12 other states, requires drivers to buy personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage to pay medical expenses. Gottlieb had the maximum: $250,000.

Unfortunately, Gottlieb’s pain persisted. “Nothing was working. The only other thing was surgery,” he said.

Though he wanted his operation performed near his home, Gottlieb said, staff members at the Bergen Pain Management clinic, where he was receiving care, insisted he go to Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus. On April 3, 2020, Gottlieb underwent a complex type of fusion surgery on the herniated discs in his cervical spine. He went home the same day.

His pain improved a bit. Then the bills came.

 

The Patient: Mark Gottlieb, 59, a marketing consultant in Little Ferry, New Jersey, covered for $250,000 in medical costs by his Geico car insurance. He also has an Aetna health insurance policy, which is secondary.

Medical Service: Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, a type of neck surgery to replace damaged discs with bone grafts or implants to stabilize the spine.

Service Provider: Hudson Regional Hospital, a stand-alone, for-profit facility in Secaucus, New Jersey, and Bergen Pain Management in Paramus, New Jersey.

Total Bill: Taken together, the hospital and surgeon billed Gottlieb more than $700,000. The hospital billed $445,995 for the surgery, an amount reduced by Geico to $103,778. Bergen Pain Management billed an additional $264,444 for the main surgeon. Based on a review, Geico reduced that to $141,548. It paid $52,365 toward that before Gottlieb’s medical coverage in his auto policy was exhausted. Then it was up to his health insurer or Gottlieb to deal with the rest.

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