Snake in the grass bites snake on foot

copperhead

Pity the poor Maryland woman who was hit with a $55,000 medical bill after being treated for a venomous snake bite.

Pity her not for being bitten – she was treated at a Bethesda, Md., hospital and is now doing fine – but for her apparent lack of common sense or, more likely, lack of gratitude.

Jules Weiss, according to a story aired on WRC-TV in Washington, DC, had stopped to take a photo at an overlook along the George Washington Parkway. On the way back to her car, she felt something bite her.

Turns out it was a Copperhead, although the story makes it sound as though Weiss wasn’t aware of being bitten by a venomous snake. (How she didn’t happen to see the snake after it bit her isn’t addressed in the story.)

“It felt just like a bee sting,” she told the station. “There were two fang marks with liquid coming out.”

So what did the former emergency medical technician do? Nothing, apparently. It was only an hour later that she noticed her foot had turned “grayish” and started to swell.

Weiss went to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where she received three IV bags of antivenin over an 18-hour period.

But because, as the story puts it, Weiss’s “insurance had just lapsed,” she was hit with a $55,000 medical bill.

Jules Weiss: Marketing strategist and snakebite

Jules Weiss: Marketing strategist and snakebite “victim.”

Unreported is why Weiss’s insurance lapsed. Did she simply decide that she didn’t want to cover the cost of the premiums any longer, as many younger individuals choose to do?

She works in Washington, DC, promoting the area’s tech industry, according to her Twitter page, so one would imagine she earns a decent living and could afford insurance if she wanted it.

Whatever the reason, Weiss is now upset about her big medical bill.

“It’s not a number I can really wrap my head around,” she said.

Antivenin involves milking individual snakes and is, not surprisingly, a costly treatment. That is one of the reasons insurance exists; to cover unexpected expensive episodes like the one Weiss experienced.

And, as is often the case with situations such as this, you can bet your last dollar that it was Weiss who brought this to the media’s attention.

Sure enough, a glance at her Twitter feed shows Weiss pumping the story for all its worth.

Jules Weiss's Twitter feed showing attempts to promote her

Jules Weiss’s Twitter feed showing attempts to promote her “plight.”

On Aug. 6 she tweeted: “Snakebite: 16hrs in ER & antivenom: $56k bill. Any other takers?” making sure to link to the Washington Post, Washington Times, WRC-TV and other outlets.

Each time an outlet ran a story she previewed it, and after it ran, she thanked the reporter and included a link to the story. She even managed to get the Today show to run a story on her “plight.”

There doesn’t appear to be any tweets thanks the staff at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda for possibly saving Weiss’s foot from amputation.

So, ultimately, what we have here is someone who failed to seek immediate treatment for what she probably should have recognized was a snakebite, who most likely made the choice herself not to have insurance, and then went to the media to broadcast her poor decisions and, in effect, bash the hospital, even after the latter had provided the care she needed.

Yes, sounds like she fits in just perfectly in Washington.

(Top: Copperhead snake. Seek treatment if bitten by one. Expect a large bill if you don’t have insurance.)

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17 thoughts on “Snake in the grass bites snake on foot

    • Antivenin is extremely expensive. The hospital provided the service that was needed, which took 18 hours. The individual in question was fortunate she didn’t lose her foot as a result of being bitten and not seeking immediate attention.

      She most likely made a conscious decision to discontinue her health insurance because she is young and healthy, and was willing to accept the risks of going without coverage for the benefit of having the extra money. Sometimes we choose poorly. But to blame the hospital for the bill – of which she would have had to pay very little if she’d had/retained insurance – and to whip up media coverage to make the hospital look bad is egregious.

      I don’t watch Fox News so I don’t get the last reference.

      • My reference to Fox news was in the context of this post being what we call over here, ‘sensationalist tabloid journalism’ . I have followed your posts for some time, they are not usually directed at an individual in a vitriolic manner, being usually of a more general and of a universally more interesting nature. What happens in your country if someone has a snakebite with no insurance and no money? Are they not treated?

      • Individuals in need of care are treated whether they have insurance or not. A hospital cannot legally turn someone away simply because they don’t have insurance.

        You’re right that usually don’t take aim at individuals, but I do tire of people gaming the system. I’m not talking about the poor, indigent or those who through misfortune, find themselves in dire straits. That’s why our society has a social safety net, even though it has many flaws.

        What irks me is people who makes poor decisions refuse to take responsibility. In this case, the individual, a graduate of a prestigious US university, chose to blame the hospital that provided necessary medical care to her and also whipped up media attention, rather than being grateful she was provided with needed care. I have no use for ingrates.

    • It will end with the woman getting plenty of free publicity – way more than $55,000 worth – and eventually, a greatly reduced hospital bill.

      She comes off looking like the victim, the hospital comes off looking greedy, and the media laps it up.

      Everyone loves a David-and-Goliath story, even when the facts don’t bear it out.

  1. $55,000 for a snakebite? Double ouch!
    Even way over here in Australia I know that health insurance is a necessity for you in the US. She clearly assumed “it’ll never happen to me” and now it has she is expecting someone else to help her foot the bill. How many other people are there who are in extremely low paying jobs who are in a similar situation and don’t have the ability to milk the public for help.

    If saving money was so important maybe she should have just chopped her foot off and cut her losses… 😉

    • Yes, some people don’t seem to understand that insurance is supposed to cover … the unexpected. I have no patience for dim bulbs who try to game the system, all while portraying themselves as the victim.

      • We are so lucky here in Aust, you go to hospital they treat you. With two boys we have been plenty of times and never get a bill. If you pay a small yearly fee ambulances are free too. We pay because “it might happen to me”!
        You can have health insurance but if you don’t you just join the queue anyway. You can still walk into any emergency dept and will be treated without that influencing your place in the queue either. Worst come first served. 🙂

      • Part of our problem here is that there is a segment of society that doesn’t have insurance that relies on the emergency room for its primary care physician services. When they get a cold or the flu, they don’t go see a doctor because they don’t have insurance. When it turns into bronchitis or pneumonia, they go to the emergency room, where the cost is significantly more. Of course, they can’t pay, so the cost is passed on to the consumer base as a whole in the form of higher rates. In addition, it taxes the hospital, particularly the emergency room personnel.

        I would never suggest that those without insurance be turned away, but there are plenty of people who forego insurance for other items that are not necessities, then end up overwhelming our health system by using the emergency ward as their primary care physician.

        I don’t know what the answer is for us in the US.

      • We do have a problem like that, I think it is mainly due to the difficulty in getting an immediate appointment to see a doctor at times, although I am sure that the cost of visiting a doctor is a factor too.
        Fortunately it isn’t too hard to find a local doctors surgery that will bulk bill, that is, treat for free, children under the age of 16 so I guess that really helps too.

        I don’t think any country has a perfect health care system, and when there are changes or improvements proposed there are always people who will complain about change just for the sake of it aren’t there?

        I can’t personally complain about how ours works, we have had a few major health dramas with one son, including a stay in intensive care, and with our ambulance subscription paid up and the presentation of our government medicare card (everyone has one) the many, many, many, thousands of dollars worth of ambulance transfers and treatments have cost nothing at all. Every day he is still alive it reminds me to be thankful that we live in a first world country in this day and age.

      • Yes, there is a lot to be said for being fortunate enough to have been born in a first world country, and health care is definitely at the top of the list of benefits.

        I too have a child among my many who once required extensive medical procedures, procedures that were unknown just 20 years earlier, and am grateful that such technology exists where I live.

      • Once, before COBRA existed, I changed jobs and was without insurance for 90 days. I was young and invincible and knew nothing would ever happen to me, but I still bought catastrophic insurance from the company insuring my vehicle and house. For a reasonable sum, it covered non-routine events…like snakebites. It was well worth it.

  2. Thank you for your comments and interest in the topic. I hope this follow-up information helps.

    My former employer, a startup, ran into financial trouble and failed to reimburse me for my health insurance while I was employed (through May), and my pay ($12k still owed). I believe in taking responsibility for my actions, my life, and my expenses as much as I am able. I let my insurance lapse while I was unemployed, a time during which I did not, nor will I ever, accept unemployment benefits. In the words of Philippa Gregory: “I believe in me, in my view of the world. I believe in my responsibility for my own destiny, guilt for my own sins, merit for my own good deeds, determination of my own life. I don’t believe in miracles, I believe in hard work.”

    $55k is too much for anyone to pay for a few vials of antivenom. Too much for me, too much for health insurance companies, and too much for the public/government. I’m investigating the markups, but currently, my understanding is that the product is marked up at least 10 times before it reaches the patient. Moreover, the hospital has to take into account uninsured patients when determining costs. This means that we (the public) are all to some extent paying for the medical bills of those who are uninsured. I’m not proud to be among this population, and I’m not proud to have been in a financially compromised situation. I do, however, believe that the health care system is not perfect, and we should strive for improvements that benefit us all.

    Copperhead snake bites do not lead to kidney failure – only swelling and potential tissue damage. Overuse of antivenom is rampant: 1.usa.gov/13kHJ58. I should have been given a choice regarding my treatment, and been made aware of the costs. I wouldn’t have chosen for *anyone* to pay this cost.

    As the news coverage on NBC Washington shows, my biggest regret was not being insured. No matter what one’s financial situation, as long as you have available credit and can be accepted for health insurance, you can not risk not having health insurance. I should have made the decision to pay for my health insurance ($290/month) on my credit card between jobs. I take full responsibility for this mistake. I hope this serves as a lesson to all who are considering forgoing health insurance.

    As for your specific concerns:

    “How she didn’t happen to see the snake after it bit her isn’t addressed in the story.”
    I did not see the snake because it was 10pm. There is dim lighting at this public scenic overlook, and I was able to see the ground, but I did not see the snake.

    “So what did the former emergency medical technician do? Nothing, apparently.”
    I am a former volunteer first responder, and I was aware of 3 key facts:
    – Copperheads are the only venomous snakes in the area
    – Their bite is not fatal, and rarely requires medical attention
    – My health insurance had lapsed.
    I noted the condition of my foot and took photos to document the swelling, which was barely existent until about an hour after the bite.

    “Unreported is why Weiss’s insurance lapsed.” I hope I have sufficiently answered this above.
    “So, ultimately, what we have here is someone who failed to seek immediate treatment for what she probably should have recognized was a snakebite, who most likely made the choice herself not to have insurance, and then went to the media to broadcast her poor decisions and, in effect, bash the hospital, even after the latter had provided the care she needed.”
    I hope that I have mostly resolved these issues above, but to be clear, I never bashed the hospital. I have been careful to assign responsibility according to the results of my investigation, but currently, I do believe that the medical bill is outrageous, and I intend to try my hardest to figure out if there is a way to improve the system (exposing outrageous markups, informing Poison Control that their information and advisement to hospitals about copperhead snakebites is inaccurate, etc.). While I do hope that my medical debt will be reduced, I also hope that you can appreciate my broader interest in raising awareness and public interest in the incident by taking advantage of media interest.

    Best of luck with your blog, and again, I thank you for taking interest in the story, and furthering the dialogue.

    Thank you,
    Jules

  3. Ms. Weiss,

    I appreciate you taking the time to comment and filling in some of the holes that the media reports left in their coverage. You raise some good points about antivenin treatment and what the actual cost is versus what the cost passed along to the consumer is. I have no idea what the difference is, so it will be interesting to see if you’re able to get a better handle on that issue.

    I disagree with you the potency of a Copperhead bite. I live further south than you and come across them from time to time. While they are not as dangerous as either rattlesnakes or cottonmouths, I don’t think it’s safe to say that a Copperhead bite rarely requires treatment. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that being bitten by any venomous snake is something that merits medical attention. One never knows how venom has been injected.

    Given that hour at which you were bitten, I can understand that you wouldn’t have been able to see the snake afterward.

    For the record, you would have been foolish not to have sought medical attention. Even though in retrospect you’re kicking yourself for the large medical bill, had you had to have part of your foot amputated, a development not inconceivable, the loss of part of a limb is something that no amount of money is worth.

    Good luck with your quest and thank you again for responding.

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