Snakebite's high price tag

This is the story of Dominic Devine. He's 10 years old and severely autistic. One night in July Dominic and his mom were visiting her parents at Lake Mathews. He followed her outside when he picked up a snake and waved in the air like it was a toy.

His mom heard some noise, saw him waving something in the air, heard a snake rattle and then heard the boy scream "OUCH". Being autistic his dad, David, says he didn't have a sense of fear or danger and that's why he grabbed the snake the way he did.

Dominic was punctured in the thigh. Good news is his mother and grandfather took the boy in the house. They saw the puncture marks. They got to the hospital. He got anti-venom and the boy ended up just fine. It could have gone a different way. But, by all accounts, quick action and the right meds saved the day. When dad got the bill he almost needed to go to the hospital because it was over $1 million. The exact amount $1.188 Million Dollars!

Says David Devine, "My reaction to the cost is I can literally sell my house in Redondo Beach that I've worked my whole life for and have it paid off in full... and I would still owe that hospital $250,000." He was angry. He contacted the hospital.

The Director of Pharmacy Services at Riverside University Health Systems - Medical Center Greg Prouty says there was a mistake. A clerk overcharged. Without getting too complicated each vial of the antidote, which is only made by one company, is $14,000. On average, a snakebite victim might need between 18 to 24 vials. The actual vials cost the hospital $2500 each, but there are many costs added on including such things as storage, the market price and so forth.

To be even more specific, Prouty says: "It's the interaction of several different factors not the least of which is there is only one manufacturer on the market so they can literally charge whatever they want. The fact that it works and it works very well.

There are people who are alive today because they were able to have received it." The pharmacist also says, "health insurance companies demand discounts from providers so the price of products like this have to be marked up so discounts can be provided and, at the end of the day, you bring in more money than it cost to buy."

Prouty is extremely apologetic. He says there was a mistake and it was corrected. Actually, it was corrected twice. The first time it was reduced to $511,825.01. Then, the hospital reduced it to $350,000-plus. Devine's co-pay was in the neighborhood of $8,000, but the hospital decided for all his trouble they wouldn't make him pay that. Now, Devine is worried about the impact on his insurance coverage and his companies.

There are 13 employees at his family wine distributing firm in Manhattan Beach. He hopes the bit financial bite the anti-venom cost his insurer won't cause him a big hit in his future coverage or that of the employees he works with at his family company.

Hospital officials says Riverside University Health is a public safety net hospital meaning the vast majority of its patients are on Medi-Cal or an indigent health plan. If someone goes there who is uninsured they say they try to always qualify them for coverage. It is their practice, they say, to always work with patients to help resolve any issues with their bills. They feel they have done that in this case.

They say they are sorry the Devine's had the experience they did.

David's son, Dominic, is alive and doing very well.

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