AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — When Brittany Tesso received a doctor’s bill from Children’s Hospital Colorado for $676.86 after a panel of doctors observed her son for two hours to see if he needed speech therapy, she thought the amount was extreme, but she paid it.

But when she got a separate bill two weeks later for $847.35, she was speechless.

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“I can tell you right now I would’ve gone elsewhere if they had told me there was an $850 fee, essentially for a Zoom call,” Tesso said.

Her 3-year-old son’s appointment was virtual, a telehealth visit conducted from their home computer, yet she was told the $847.35 bill was a “facility fee.”

“I was like, ‘Facility fee? I didn’t go to your facility. I was at home and as far as I could tell some of the doctors were at home too.’ And she said, ‘Well, we charge the same whether you come to the facility or it’s a telehealth appointment,'” Tesso said.

Tesso isn’t the only one hit with a bill like this. Michael Kark was charged a $503 facility fee after his son went to see a doctor, not at Children’s Hospital Colorado but in a medical practice building owned by Children’s Hospital Colorado. Nexstar’s KDVR heard from another 20 people with similar stories.

“This sounds like essentially gouging,” said Adam Fox, deputy director at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. “It’s really charging for a facility, i.e the hospital, which they are not even accessing.”

Fox said consumers don’t have any real recourse because there are no regulations in Colorado when it comes to facility fees charged by hospitals.

“I think it’s pretty sad and pathetic,” Tesso said. “State lawmakers could really get in front of this. … You know they’re not allowed to do surprise bills, but I believe that’s what this is. It’s 100% a surprise bill.”

Colorado House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said he’s working on legislation that would bring greater transparency to patient billing, although his measure specifically addresses hospital provider fees at the moment, not facility fees.

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Children’s Hospital Colorado did not address why it felt it was appropriate to charge an $847 facility fee for a virtual visit or how it arrived at that amount. In a statement, the hospital told KDVR:

This is not exclusively a Children’s Colorado issue, and we suggest that you speak to other providers, insurers and legislators to provide a broader perspective on the system that governs how we all operate. We want affordable and accessible care for all of our patients, and we continually look at our own practices to see where we can adjust and improve while at the same time we work to build a functioning system of care for kids.  

We agree that insurance coverage, healthcare fees and health costs in general can be confusing and frustrating to navigate, and don’t always make sense. To that end, we continue to advocate for state and federal policies that address healthcare consumer cost concerns through more affordable and accessible insurance coverage and hospital and provider price transparency, while also defending children’s access to care and the unique needs of a pediatric hospital.

Children’s Hospital Colorado