On April 19th, 2023, Audry Sarno’s primary care physician was listening to her heartbeat through a stethoscope and told her he heard irregular rhythms. Sarno said he told her it sounded like atrial fibrillation (known as Afib), an arrhythmia which could lead to blood clotting, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiovascular complications.
Sarno’s doctor sent her to the emergency room because she already had tachycardia, a heart condition that causes rapid heartbeats, even at rest. At the E.R., she waited for eight and a half hours before medical personnel let her know that she, in fact, wasn’t experiencing irregular heart rhythms. Later, Sarno was served a medical bill exceeding $7,000.
“I was floored when I got the bill,” she said.
Sarno felt like she was overcharged for the services provided, since she had spent hours waiting to be seen. Once it was finally her turn to receive medical care at midnight, the E.R. doctor only had to listen to her heart for 30 seconds before waiving her primary care physician’s concerns.
“He asked if my doctor was old,” Sarno said. “I said, ‘he is not ancient, why?’ and he said sometimes they have old stethoscopes and think they hear things.”
To this day, Sarno has not paid the $7,000 bill and has been fighting the hospital over the costs. Sarno said she was also supposed to receive the discount afforded to self-pay and uninsured patients, but that she still hasn’t heard anything back.
This particular incident isn’t the first time Sarno has felt like she was left in the dark about her medical care. When living in New Jersey, Sarno sustained injuries at work after a 65lb metal rack pulled on her back. Left physically disabled from the incident, Sarno spent 10 years fighting for disability but was turned down each time. Once she sought help from an attorney in South Carolina who had experience working in the federal courts at the appellate level, Sarno was finally granted disability in October of 2022.
“I am getting closer to getting my disability, but there was an issue,” Sarno said. “They sent my case to the wrong department and had to send it to the correct department.”
In South Carolina where Sarno resides, only four out of 25 hospitals reviewed are compliant with the federal Hospital Price Transparency Rule, according to the Patients Rights Advocate’s Fourth Semi-Annual Hospital Price Transparency Compliance Report. Based on this rule, patients like Sarno have the right to know what their health care will cost them, but because of widespread hospital noncompliance, patients are overcharged or mistakenly billed, and then bear the burden of remedying these errors.
“I feel I was overcharged,” Sarno said. “I know it is expensive, but it is definitely more than it should have been.”