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Berkeley balcony collapse: Injured survivors could face big medical costs despite insurance

By Caroline Crawford

Published 17/06/2015

Shocked people gather at the scene
Shocked people gather at the scene
Police at the scene of a balcony collapse at an apartment building near UC Berkeley on June 16, 2015 in Berkeley (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Toni Mikulka places flowers at a makeshift memorial for victims of the balcony collapse (AP)
The Irish students killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse: Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Olivia Burke, all 21 years old and friends from south Dublin. The sixth fatality is Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22), from California.
Police examine the scene of a balcony collapse in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The remains of the balcony
An emergency worker with a body
Two students comfort each other at the scene of the tragedy
A group stands in the lobby at Highland Hospital, where some victims from a balcony that collapsed were taken (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Rubble and plastic cups line a sidewalk below the area where a fourth floor balcony collapsed in Berkeley (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Survivors of the Berkeley balcony collapse could now be facing massive medical bills as they are treated in American hospitals for their injuries.

Medical insurance is mandatory for all J1 visa holders and the level and range of such insurance was upgraded earlier this year for all those travelling to the US.

However, it is feared that costs could still mount for the injured.

Minimum levels of Insurance cover for J1 students are determined by US State Department Regulations.

In May, the Department increased the amount of insurance coverage J1 program participants are required to maintain. It saw the required level of medical benefits paid per accident rise from $50,000 to $100,000.

The level of expenses associated with the medical evacuation of a student back home also increased from $10,000 to $50,000.

The new requirements were announced last October and came into force in May.

All J1 visa holders are expected to have these increased limits covered by their insurance.

Read more:

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Berkeley balcony collapse: Police were called to birthday party an hour before tragedy - but did not go because of shooting elsewhere  

Berkeley balcony collapse: City rallies round Irish students and families on a dark day in California  

Berkeley balcony collapse: Officials begin three investigations into what caused tragedy  

While the injured Irish students who are currently undergoing treatment in three hospitals in California, should have this mandatory insurance, it is not clear if this will completely cover all medical bills that are incurred as a result of the tragedy.

Medical costs in America are notoriously high, with the cost of hospital stays quickly spiralling out of control.

One day as an in-patient in an American hospital can cost an average of more than $4,000, according to the International Federation of Health Plans in figures gathered in recent years.

The body, which is an international network of health insurance industries, say the figure is five times higher than the average charged in many other developed countries.

The excessive costs accumulate because everything from an aspirin to a bag of IV fluid is charged.

Each hospital has a "charge master" sheet, a price list which can have up to 10,000 entries. In California these sheets are required to be filed with health regulators and are then disclosed.

The price list is not based on market prices and can be set at any level the hospital wants. The price lists show a CT scan can cost over $4,000, ten times the cost of a similar scan at outpatient facilities.

Basic stitches can often run to several thousand dollars while certain surgeries can cost more than $10,000. While the emphasis for victims will now be on making a recovery and returning home, the crippling costs of treatment in American hospitals may add an extra level of worry and stress to an already emotional and traumatic experience.

Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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