January 26, 2012

Donors Pay Sarah Burke's Huge Medical Bill: The family of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke has raised several hundred thousand dollars to cover medical costs incurred after she was injured in a Jan. 10 training accident that ultimately ended her life. Donations on Give Forward have reached $294,000. "Enough funds have been raised to cover the anticipated costs related to Sarah's medical care," the family states. "Future donations will go towards post-hospital arrangements such as services and memorial costs and to establish a foundation to honor Sarah's legacy."

posted by rcade to olympics at 09:46 AM - 10 comments

Athletes in dangerous sports like hers can compete without being insured?

posted by rcade at 09:47 AM on January 26, 2012

From this article:

Her care wasn't covered by competitor insurance provided by the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association because the Park City event was unsanctioned.

That left with Burke's family with a bill initially estimated at $550,000, later revised downward to around $200,000, some of which will be covered by B.C. Medicare

posted by DrJohnEvans at 09:54 AM on January 26, 2012

I don't know what the norms are for athletes like Burke, but it seems extremely reckless to compete in events where you're not insured. A half-million hospital bill is a foreseeable circumstance in a sport as dangerous as hers. If she had survived and needed long-term care, donations couldn't have paid that for very long.

posted by rcade at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2012

"extremely reckless"? rcade, you should look into what it would take to even become insured in such circumstances. It is beyond the means of the typical athlete to afford such coverage, even where it is available.

The federations to which these athletes belong are notoriously cheap-ass. When Picabo Street suffered a horrendous injury while competing in Europe (badly fractured femur plus two trashed knees), the US Ski Team's medical program took care of medical expenses but would not transport her home to the US. A private donor did that.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2012

There are some fishy elements to this story. Any report I've read states that the hospital has not yet billed the family, so the amounts are just estimates -- estimates that appear to vary wildly as rcade notes in the original post.

Moreover, while it's true that Burke was not covered under her association's insurance policy because it was a non-sanctioned event, the sponsor of this event is silent on whether or not they had medical insurance coverage for the athletes (the silence would imply they didn't, which I think is pretty deplorable).

So Burke's family makes an appeal within days of her death for an amount more than double the anticipated costs, costs which BC's health authority will help pay, and which the event sponsors are pretty much morally obligated to pay, whether they actually had insurance in place or not.

And while it's good that the family is directing the excess funds to a foundation in her honor, there's something about it I don't feel comfortable with, especially when latching onto the public sentiment so soon after Burke's unfortunate death, and using political overtones (intentional or otherwise) in the process.

posted by geneparmesan at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2012

You should look into what it would take to even become insured in such circumstances. It is beyond the means of the typical athlete to afford such coverage, even where it is available.

Why is that anyone's problem except her own? Why wouldn't it be considered "extremely reckless" to put yourself in a situation where if you were injured, you wouldn't be covered and/or couldn't pay your own expenses? It sounds like the plan is, "Well, if I get hurt, I'll figure it out later or someone else will pay."

That's not reckless?

I'm wondering if because of the universal coverage in Canada, Canadian athletes don't worry about this as much? What the hell do US athletes do when something goes wrong?

posted by wfrazerjr at 03:12 PM on January 26, 2012

So Burke's family makes an appeal within days of her death for an amount more than double the anticipated costs

That sounds like the hospital's number-crunchers spat out an initial estimate at the "reasonable and customary" rate, which is inflated for the purposes of covering writeoffs for those who can't pay, and negotiating "discount" rates with insurers. When the money was forthcoming, those numbers got tossed. You can see that on a much smaller scale if you're uninsured but able to pay up front and demand a negotiated rate: often, the bill miraculously shrinks.

I don't think it's fishy, so much as a product of imperfect information on all sides. You have a family dealing with a personal tragedy, and at the same time being introduced to the US way of healthcare at its most rapacious. You have a wide community of fans who want to do something to share their grief, just as you'll buy the $5 muffin at the workplace medical bill bake sale. You have the BC Medicare and various sponsors trying to work things out.

But I think rcade has a point: dip beneath the glitz of the X Games showcases, and I think you'll find some pretty threadbare operations in terms of safety for extreme sports.

posted by etagloh at 06:47 PM on January 26, 2012

Oh, I get it. It's like the price on the back of the hotel room's door, which is always five times more than you actually paid.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 09:38 PM on January 26, 2012

Why is that anyone's problem except her own?

It's the problem of anyone who wants these sporting competitions to happen. Most top-level athletes in most sports are not exactly getting paid.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:58 PM on January 26, 2012

As someone who works in the US healthcare system and has an understanding of the billing side, here's basically how it works.

Hospital/Doctor decides how much they charge for a given procedure. This is 100% of the bill. There are exceptions, some physicians will underbill if they think someone is in a situation where they can't afford it. Of course by doing that, they've just committed fraud. Whole 'nother story.

Private/Self pay types get charged 100%. They can try to negotiate or set up payment plans, but it's up to them in each individual case to attempt this.

Commercial insurance comes along and says, "I have thousands/millions of peope I can point to your facility, I'm going to pay less." And so, because of a better negotiating position, they do.

Medicare comes along and says, "Hahaha, how quaint. You set your prices? Well, so did I. This is how much I'm going to pay. Deal with it. And no, you can't just charge the patient the difference, about 20% of the total I paid, yes."

Medicaid then comes along and just laughs and laughs and laughs as it pays ten cents on the dollar and then pleasantly reminds you can't charge the patient for anything.

posted by apoch at 05:20 AM on January 27, 2012

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