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Family Learns the High Cost of a Dog Bite in California

When a 17-year-old from Stockton was riding his bike a few weeks ago, an unknown dog chased him and bit him on the leg. The dog bite left a painful puncture wound, and despite several searches over the course of a week, the dog could not be located.

Even though rabies is extremely rare in the U.S., the disease is virtually always fatal in humans and dogs. His parents decided it would be best to get him vaccinated.

The good news is that rabies vaccinations are no longer as frightening and painful as they once were. Today the vaccine is administered just like a flu shot.

The family was less happy when it found out how expensive the process would turn out to be. Although their health insurance is expected to cover much of the cost, the family discovered that the co-pays and uninsured costs can be unexpectedly high in dog bite cases.

First, the only facility in the area where immune globulin shots are available is the San Joaquin General Hospital emergency room. Since rabies is so rare, few facilities provide the vaccine. The fact that the emergency room is the only local facility equipped for rabies vaccination means inconvenience for families and, often enough, additional cost.

The family was told the entire process -- four shots and all follow-up care -- had to be done at the San Joaquin General emergency room, which meant a much higher insurance co-pay for each visit. According to the boy's father, his co-pay for a visit to a doctor's office is only $25, but for an ER visit it's $125. That co-pay applies to each and every visit, too.

Worse yet, the ER is not on the list of the insurance company's preferred providers. While the actual vaccinations should be covered because there is no other provider, the family hasn't been able to get an answer from their insurance company on whether the follow-up visits will be covered at all.

A spokesperson for the hospital explains that each rabies shot is billed at $3,000, so a $125 co-pay is relatively inexpensive for the patient.

When someone is bitten by an unknown dog, they typically have no option but their own insurance, which often isn't enough. The process can be a lot easier if the dog and its owner are known.

Source: The Record, "Left feeling bitten," Michael McCollum, March 30, 2013

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