Action 9

‘That’s crazy’: Minor cat bite leads to major $25,000 bill

ORLANDO, Fla. — Petting a cat in your neighborhood may seem harmless, but an Orlando woman learned it’s something that could end up costing you thousands of dollars.

Sabrina Daswick was out on her back patio when she saw a cute cat in the yard with her.

Daswick said, “It just came into the yard and I just stooped down to pet it.”

She didn’t think much about it since the cat seemed to enjoy it, but then it’s demeanor changed.

“It was happy and then I just pet it in the wrong way and it just turned and bit me,” she said.

It wasn’t a bad bite, but the cat took off and Daswick hasn’t seen it since.  During a visit to the doctor the issue of rabies came up and she started to worry.  If left untreated, rabies is fatal.   So, taking no chances, Daswick decided to get the lengthy and painful rabies post exposure treatment.

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Daswick told Action 9 consumer investigator Jeff Deal, “I just showed up to the ER.  And they said, ‘We’re glad you did this. This was the best thing to do for getting a bite from a wild animal.’”

Deal asked, “Did you have any idea what the cost would be like?”   

Daswick responded, “No idea. Not even close.”

The total cost for treatment from AdventHealth was more than $25,000.  Even with insurance for Daswick, it meant paying $4,500 out of pocket.

Caitlin Donovan from the National Patient Advocate Foundation said, “Compared to other medications, even within the United States, it is particularly expensive because it’s made from an expensive material.”

She pointed out immune globulin given after the exposure is derived from human blood that’s been donated by people with the antibodies for rabies.  It’s typically not held in local doctors’ offices which means in most cases patients must make a trip to the emergency room.

Donovan said, “So, you’re forced into the series of healthcare decisions that are barely a decision and yet you’re walloped with this enormous cost.”

While it is expensive everywhere, Donovan said like most medications it’s more expensive in the U.S. because we have fewer price controls.  In fact, in some countries, patients potentially exposed to rabies don’t have to pay anything out of pocket.

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Last year, Congressman Ami Bera of California, who is a medical doctor, introduced legislation to try to lower the cost for the uninsured after he and others near the Capitol grounds were bitten by a rabid fox.

At this point, that bill hasn’t gained traction, but even for those with insurance, like Daswick, suddenly getting a bill for thousands of dollars isn’t easy to swallow.  It was so surprising, at first Daswick wondered if there was a mistake on her bill.

“I mean, you have no choice. When you think you might get rabies. You gotta get your rabies vaccine. I can’t be the only one, and I think that’s crazy,” she said.

She was able to get her follow-up rounds of the vaccine shots at the health department for significantly less than at the hospital.

Many hospitals, including AdventHealth, do have financial aid programs for those who are in need of assistance with bills. 

Patient advocates recommend waiting to pay any medical bill until after the explanation of benefits arrives just in case there are any mistakes, and if something doesn’t look right, the patients should contest it.

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal,

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.