This Mom Was Billed $1,800 For Her 5-Year-Old's Ear Piercing, & This Is Why We Need Health Reform

Ad failed to load

When it comes to the debate about health reform, the conversation usually hinges on how to make sure people have access to adequate, affordable health insurance coverage. The bigger question of why healthcare is so expensive in the first place usually gets lost. But it’s a critical point, since rising costs and confusing practices can ultimately mean massive bills and headaches for consumers — even if they have health insurance. Recently, investigative journalists at ProPublica began documenting the ways that waste gets built into health care costs. One article published this week from ProPublica's ongoing series explained how a Colorado facility charged $1,800 for a 5-year-old’s ear piercing, and the family’s story is a perfect example of what’s missing in the conversation on health reform.

According to the ProPublica report, Margaret O’Neill took her daughter to an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Colorado Children’s Hospital in 2015 to be treated for a “tongue-tie.” The band of tissue between the 5-year-old’s tongue and the floor of her mouth was too tight, causing her to have trouble forming the “th” sound, according to the article. It’s a common issue, according to the Mayo Clinic website, and in many cases, the tissue will stretch and relax on its own. But in this case, the specialist recommended having the tissue cut in an outpatient procedure.

Ad failed to load

O’Neill told ProPublica that during the pre-operative visit, the surgeon offered to perform an unexpected perk while her daughter was under sedation: O’Neill could have the little girl’s ears pierced, as long as she provided the earrings. She told the outlet that her initial response was, “That’s so funny. I didn’t think you did ear piercings.”

According to the report, the surgeon assured O’Neill that all she would have to do is bring the starter set of earrings on the morning of the surgery, making no mention of how much (if anything) the family might be charged for the ear piercing.

For those who haven’t had the experience of getting a child’s ears pierced, the procedure is so simple it can be done by a pediatrician, a tattoo parlor, or even at a mall jewelry shop — typically for free if the parent purchases a starter set of earrings.

Ad failed to load

O’Neill told ProPublica that months after her daughter’s hospital visit, she received a bill for $1,877, the cost of “operating room services” that her insurer had declined to pay.

What’s more, O’Neill told the outlet that when she disputed the bill, the hospital dug in, telling her that if she didn’t pay the bill would go to collections as an unpaid debt.

Romper has requested comment from Colorado Children’s Hospital, but hasn’t heard back.

Ad failed to load

Ultimately, O’Neill was able to get the hospital to issue a “one-time courtesy adjustment” for the expense, ProPublica reported. But the whole ordeal cost the family months of headache, careful research, and negotiation — not to mention another $30 paid to a mall jeweler when the mom realized that her daughter’s piercing was off-center and needed to be redone.

The family’s story may sound ridiculous, but it happens to patients everyday. According to the National Academy of Medicine, an estimated $210 billion of the money spent on healthcare in the United States each year goes to unnecessary or needlessly expensive procedures. And the issue goes beyond the arbitrary fees that providers are allowed to charge. The fact is that when someone is in a medical emergency — or hours away from a medical procedure (as in O’Neill’s case) — they no longer have the space or time to effectively negotiate, comparison shop, or research.

Ad failed to load

When a mom in labor needs to be airlifted for emergency treatment of twin-to-twin transfusion, she’s not in a position to ask if the helicopter service is in-network. A couple who’s in an operating room for a C-section isn’t in a position to ask if they’ll be charged for having skin-to-skin contact with the child after delivery. And, with so many rural hospitals closing because of dwindling insurance reimbursements and rising expenses, it’s ridiculous to think that patients should shoulder the full cost of air ambulances to the nearest facility.

But that’s what’s happening. And it's costing millions of families in the form of medical debt and the resulting financial challenges. In the heated debate about the future of health reform, we can't afford to ignore why costs are so high in the first place. It could turn out to be one of the most expensive points in the discussion.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

13 Unique (& Totally Not Mainstream) Mother's Day Gifts For The Hipster Mom

Hipsters thrive on being outside the norm and not really digging anything considered "mainstream." Whether it's in their fashion, what music they listen to, the books they read, or how they enjoy beverages, there's just something that makes them dist…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills