Butte Fire Grows To 14,700 Acres; More Evacuations Ordered

I was among a team of digital staff who started and continued to update this blog after a wildfire exploded overnight to more than 14,000 acres. The updates continued for several days. Full story here.

September 10, 2015 – Original Post: In the foothills, wind and triple digit heat boosted the Butte Fire to 4,000 acres just hours after starting. The blaze jumped from Amador into Calaveras County and took out key power infrastructure — a massive hydro-electric system on the Mokelumne River.

PG&E is waiting for fire crews battling the blaze to contain it before they can restore power to about 17,000 people. Deb Harrigan is with PG&E. She says they’re applying lessons learned earlier this fire season to the Butte Fire.

“We’ve got a fire down in the Fresno area — the Rough Fire — so we have lots of folks dedicated to that effort. And we absolutely take those lessons and apply them in these situations,” says Harrigan.
Currently at 30 percent contained, the Butte Fire started Wednesday afternoon. PG&E says power could be restored tonight.

Two Deputies Dead, Suspects Captured In Shootings Of Three Officers And One Civilian

When two deputies were shot in Sacramento County, I started this blog on CapRadio.org. As the manhunt for the suspect continued through the afternoon, I kept this story updated with the latest information. Read the full story here.

Oct. 24, 2014 – Original blog post:  The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is searching for two suspects they say is involved in the shootings of three deputies in Sacramento and Placer Counties Friday.

Police believe two heavily armed suspects, a man and a woman, were involved in the shooting of a deputy near the intersection of Arden Way and Ethan Way after 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the Motel 6.

Lisa Bowman with the Sheriffs’ department says the deputy was investigating what he considered to be a suspicious vehicle. She says as the deputy approached, someone inside the vehicle fired multiple rounds.

Three subsequent carjackings were reported following the shooting.

The suspects are believed to have carjacked a vehicle at Howe and Spanos Court, another on Dornajo Way and a third on Castec. Bowman says one of the carjacking victims was shot and is in surgery.

Authorities were looking for the last known vehicle that the suspects were in — a Red Ford F-150 with license plate 8J34411.

The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department say the red ford pickup may have been found in the city of Auburn. A search is underway near the American River Canyon Overlook Park, according to multiple media reports.

Medical Advocate Explains Viral Post On $55K Appendectomy Bill

I wrote this story after seeing a post on Reddit go viral. Original story posted here.

Story: Last week, a Reddit post by a man, who claims he was charged more than $55,000 for an apendectomy at Sutter Health General Hospital in Sacramento, went viral.

The man claims the procedure amounted to $55,029.31. Luckily, he is on his father’s insurance and most of the bill would be paid for. Still, the 20-year-old finds himself responsible for paying a $11,119.53 bill.

The post, which was picked up by national news and swirled around social media sites, garnered tens of thousands of comments and sparked debate about the high cost of care  in the United States.

zcypher: … $11,119.53 is still a ton at this time in my life…

I think you can see how outrageous some of these costs are. Such as the Recovery Room that I was in for maybe two hours. Or the Room and Board that I had for one night. Or maybe the $4,500 worth of anesthesia they supposedly used on me.

Pat Palmer, founder of the Medical Billing Advocates of America, says the situation described by the Reddit poster is a common one. Palmer explains the appendectomy bill in question is actually just a summary and hides additional charges that a patient could dispute.

“It’s not uncommon to see these prices,” says Palmer. “He’s received a bill $55,000 and he has no clue what he’s paying for.”

For example, the hospital charged the man about $6,000 for medical and surgical supplies. But, Palmer says, routine supplies and equipment are not billable items and would be factored into the price for the operating room — already a separate charge of about $16,000. Essentially, the patient might be paying twice for certain equipment, she says.

0103_Sutter Health

Image via zcypher / Reddit

In response to the post, Sutter Health released a statement saying there are many factors contributing to the cost of care including having to pay for patients who cannot pay for themselves, the investments needed for facilities and salaries for employees.

In addition, a Sutter Health spokeswoman told the Sacramento Business Journal that health care pricing is a complex issue that cannot be fully explained in social media.

Sutter Health does acknowledge that billing structures need to be improved.

Sutter Health agrees that an improved billing structure is needed in our nation’s hospitals—where published charges are more closely aligned with actual costs. And a more straightforward pricing system is only possible when reimbursement from government-sponsored patients covers actual costs.

Palmer advises consumers in a similar position to ask the hospital for an itemized bill and possibly enlist the help of a medical billing advocate to challenge the charges. An advocate would charge a percentage of the savings that a patient might get in the dispute.

Other Reddit users chimed in with their own nightmare experiences with medical bills.

Bigpulve: I had the unfortunate luck to have cancer when I was 20. I had no insurance due to taking a year off from college, so my parents didn’t cover me any longer. By the end of 2009 I was looking at 150k of bills, praying Medicaid came through. They did and paid everything in full. Though cancer stuff doesn’t stop when treatments over. After 09 I still racked up 50k in bills from scans, visits, blood work etc. I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 24 due to it.

ABC News, which picked up the story about the Reddit post, said researchers from the University of California San Francisco conducted a study in April and found that an appendectomy in the state can cost anywhere between $1,529 and $182,955. The researchers told ABC News that the huge variation in costs depends on the hospitals.A new study by National Nurses United, a nurses’ union, found some hospitals charge hundreds of dollars more than the actual cost of services provided.

On Monday, it was announced that a petition to put a healthcare pricing initiative on the ballot is circulating. The measure would prevent hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the estimated cost of services provided to patients.