$1,944 for a Covid Test? How Readers Helped Us Spot an Unusual Trend

first_imgThe documents are part of a project I began in August, asking readers to send in charges they’ve faced for coronavirus testing and treatment. The bills can reveal important information that hospitals and doctors often keep secret, like the true cost of a hospital stay or how much fees vary from one patient to the next. A few trickle in each day, and I look over each one.If you read enough — I’m at 400 and counting right now — they can also show patterns in how providers bill patients. That’s how I came to my latest story, which looks at a doctor in Greenwich, Conn., named Steven Murphy. Patients contend that he used public testing sites to run unnecessary and expensive tests. Dr. Murphy defended his billing practices and said he was providing a vital service to the community. The story caught my eye only because of the high number of patients sending bills from his testing sites in New York City’s northern suburbs. Without that wave of reader submissions, I never would have known something was awry.- Advertisement – This is information that powerful health care lobbies typically try to keep secret. The American Hospital Association recently sued the Trump administration over new rules that would make health care prices public (they lost that challenge but have said they plan to appeal to a higher court). This makes it frustratingly difficult for reporters and patients to answer seemingly basic questions, like how much a coronavirus test costs in the United States. Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.For the last few months, I’ve started my mornings with the same routine: reviewing New York Times readers’ medical bills over coffee.- Advertisement – The first bill with this provider was sent to me on Aug. 3, the same day I started the collection project. A woman from outside New York City said she was “shocked” to see a drive-through coronavirus testing site bill her insurance $1,944. “How can this provider bill $480 for a 3 minute phone call giving test results?” she asked in her submission.The next day, another submission from a patient of Dr. Murphy’s came in. “I can pay my bill but I’m astounded at the cost the provider is charging for the test,” the patient wrote. Four days later, there was another patient reporting the “exorbitant rates” she faced, also from Dr. Murphy.When the first bill came in, I thought it was interesting but didn’t quite see a full story. The patient’s high charges could be an anomaly. By the end of the summer, I had six separate bills and an inkling something was amiss. I had slowly amassed a data set that showed that a doctor who was staffing public testing sites was repeatedly billing insurers more than $1,000 for coronavirus tests.- Advertisement – – Advertisement – The patients who went to one of these drive-through tests had no chance of knowing what charges they would face beforehand. Their bills, however, can help shine some light on the issue. They lay secret prices out in plain sight.They also contain five-digit billing codes, which I’ve had to become more adept at reading the longer I’ve covered the health system. Those codes show exactly what service the doctor provided. In this case, those codes tipped me off that Dr. Murphy wasn’t just billing for coronavirus tests, as his patients thought. He was billing for 20 other respiratory pathogens, too.The bills are important, but they are never the entire story. After I had amassed enough bills to start seeing a pattern, I began interviewing patients about their experiences. I spoke with Dr. Murphy about his billing practices. He said the use of the larger test was appropriate because it could catch a wider range of diseases, particularly for those who were symptomatic.I talked to medical billing experts to get their insights, and to the elected officials who had set up the testing sites. I filed public records requests, and when they came back, combed through thousands of pages of emails between Dr. Murphy and town government workers.In most cases, the patient bills I receive don’t turn into stories. Some don’t reveal new information. Of those that do, we often don’t have enough submissions to show a pattern or the ability to look into each one.In this case though, we got lucky: A critical mass of readers decided to take a few minutes to send us a medical bill they found odd. That decision allowed me to do my job better, and tell a story that otherwise may have gone untold.last_img read more

Communication, defense focuses for Syracuse ahead of hosting Virginia

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 21, 2013 at 2:08 am Contact Melissa: [email protected] Loose ground balls and lost draws plagued the Syracuse defense in Sunday’s defeat to Maryland.Syracuse went into the half having won only four of 15 draws, and trailing 8-6. It came out for the second half and lost another, putting further pressure on an already vulnerable defense.The defense was still not clicking, and while SU improved on the draw in the second half, turnovers kept the Orange under siege and the Terrapins ran out 19-11 as the winners.“We weren’t as sharply prepared as we thought we thought we were,” head coach Gary Gait said. “That’s the way it goes, you think you’re ready and then you make a lot of mental errors.”This week, No. 6 Syracuse (1-1) worked on controlling its defensive errors and communication on the field leading up to a rematch with No. 7 Virginia (2-0) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSunday’s game is the 15th meeting between the two schools. The Cavaliers have dominated the series 11-3, and earned their last victory by exposing the Orange defense with a 4-1 run late in the first half.The team is appreciative of an early loss to a top-five team. Gait explains the Terps exposed many of the young team’s flaws, beginning with its teamwork. The stinging loss forces SU to regroup ahead of hosting UVA.“Virginia is, historically, a team we struggled against,” junior attack Alyssa Murray said. “If you go in doubting yourself, the outcome is going to be something you don’t want.”To boost its confidence early, the Orange looks to overwhelm Virginia’s defense and score first. Once Virginia goes on a run and converts open looks, it is hard to play catch-up.Syracuse is aware of this as it looks to snap the Cavaliers’ eight-game winning streak in this series. With a week off from its first game, the Orange has paced itself in preparing for the matchup, choosing not to study film on the Cavaliers just yet. Instead, SU is focusing on its own mistakes.“We’ve taken the last couple days to look at what we can take away from the Maryland game,” senior Linley Block said.Senior Becca Block was often left alone defending the crease as defensive communication broke down. Only four players notched goals for the Orange against Maryland, as opposed to 11 players at lowly Jacksonville in the season opener.Dooming the defense and starving the offense was SU’s inability to control possession off of the draw. The Orange would take initial possession, only to lose it before it could settle into a set offense.“I think that’s the focus,” Gait said. “We worked on a lot of boxing out and quick starts to make sure we give ourselves a better shot at getting those.”His game plan was not executed then, but he guarantees it will be this Sunday. He wants his players to play a physical style of lacrosse.Murray noticed the defense stepped up its pressure in Tuesday’s practice, focusing on getting a marker on everyone.Said Murray: “It’s been a lot harder to play them this week.” Commentslast_img read more