Thursday, December 11, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Doctor Working at Scripps Memorial Charging Cancer Patients $400 an Hour, Insurance Rarely Accepted

The $400-an-hour pain doctor
Readers of this news blog know that I'm a cancer patient and global patient advocate and that I don't take crap from corporations, doctors and others who gouge and take advantage of cancer patients and others who are sick and/or in pain. Readers of this blog also know that I've been in chronic, massive pain for several years.

On that note, I called a doctor in San Diego today who specializes in pain. Her office is at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She is Dr. Nancy Sajben. I found her by simply Googling "San Diego" and "pain." 

She calls herself a "pain management specialist." At Scripps, she sees cancer patients and others who have chronic pain. She says she can treat the difficult cases. I was eager to tell her a bit about my case and see if she could help me and what she has done for others.

To my surprise, she answered the phone directly. It was a cell phone. She was in her car, I could hear the traffic. I briefly told her my cancer story and that I had chronic pain, and that I was a journalist.

She listened, then said she could help me. For $400 an hour. Yes, $400 an hour. She added that she accepts no insurance -- at least not a PPO, or an HMO, which is what I told her I have. 

After my momentary shock, I told her that charging cancer patients in chronic pain -- or anyone for that matter -- $400 an hour was absolutely outrageous. I said her prices were prohibitively, insanely high. 

I told her that as a working journalist and family man, I don't have that kind of money. I basically told her off. She has clearly heard this beef before. She calmly but smugly told me that she used to be poor. She said she helps people. She said she studied for many years. 

I said that even if all that is true, she only helps wealthy folks who can afford $400 an hour. Others are left out in the cold. Is that what she was taught during her many years of training?

I told her how I felt. Now I'm asking you: please contact this woman and tell her to stop charging so much money to cancer patients and others who are in pain and desperate for help. Her number is 858-622-0500.

Hell, she could charge half of that, even a quarter of that, and still make a very good living. This woman has no shame, no scruples, no compassion and no clue. Hippocratic Oath? What's that?

And please also join me in telling Scripps, which rightly touts the many positive things it does for cancer patients, to take more responsibility for the doctors they house in their own hospitals. 

When I contacted the public relations staff at Scripps and told them about my exchange with Sajben, this is what one of their representatives said to me:

"This [Sajben] is an independent doctor who has her office on the Scripps Memorial Hospital campus (as do a lot of doctors), as well as having privileges at Scripps La Jolla (as do a lot of doctors). She’s not a 'Scripps doctor' in the sense that she’s not part of our Medical Foundation. I’m sorry you’re in pain and hope you find the help you need." 

I then respectfully asked the PR person if Scripps was really comfortable being associated with someone who charges this much to ailing cancer patients, and she said, "She is not our physician. She leases space on our property." 

I then respectfully pointed out to her that Sajben's care is administered inside a Scripps hospital and that this is a tacit (at the very least) endorsement of her care. 

She responded, "She's in private practice." 

Then, finally, she said, "I understand your frustration. It’s not an issue Scripps can speak to because we don’t have any influence over what an independent doctor (whether leasing space in a medical office building on our campus or elsewhere) charges in their private practice."

OK, Scripps. We get it. You take no responsibility whatsoever for the fact that this woman is working in your hospital and paying rent to you, and you have no comment or judgement whatsoever on what this woman is doing while on your grounds. 

She is not an official Scripps physician. Understood. But do patients who see her and see that she is located at Scripps really make that distinction? Of course not. Sajben is located at Scripps and she says so on her website. She administers her care at a Scripps hospital. 

Is Scripps that amoral? Does the hospital really have no comment or opinion on the fact that a doctor working in its hospital charges $400 an hour to suffering cancer patients who are in chronic pain?

By the way, Scripps apparently also accepts patients from Sajben.

Scripps can't set her prices, of course, because while what she charges is surely recognized to anyone with any common decency as immoral and unethical, it is not illegal. And she is technically not a Scripps employee. But they can certainly choose not to let her do business in their hospital.

Sorry, Scripps. You can't dismiss this and just say casually that she is not one of your doctors. You are taking her money and she's hanging out her shingle in your hospital. Own it. Do the right thing.

14 comments:

  1. For God's sake give 48 hours before cancellation or you will have to sell your wife's car. What will you charge her if she makes you wait in the waiting room for a couple of hours because of traffic in La Jolla?

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  2. For $400 an hour they should throw in a shampoo and blow drive for the family dog and a month's supply of medical marijuana.

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    1. agree. please use your name when you post if possible.

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  3. After reading your article I looked at some of my medical bills after my PPO adjusted and paid their portion...office visit with a dermatologist 15-20 min visit...billed $125...almost the same price per hour..Doctors have to staff their offices..and pay rent and insurance. Instead of quoting you her hourly rate, she should have told you what patients usually end up paying for initial consultation and follow ups over a year.

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    1. that's nonsense. so you're justifying charging cancer patients $400 an hour? Absurd. I typically don't post anonymous comments. Please have the courage to use your name if you;re going to endorse this kind of greed.

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    2. i agree, many doctors who accept insurance also charge way too much. but that is an important but entirely different argument. your itemizing presumes that this doctor who does not accept insurance needs to make a really great living just to survive. it all comes down to why someone enters the world of medicine. did you do it to become rich and live in a nice big home in la jolla, or did you do it to help sick people? sure, there is a bit of both for many docs, and they deserve to be paid well, but the bottom line is not the "bottom line." the bottom line for patients is that your doctor has taken the hippocratic oath. should i not assume that if you are a doctor, you became a doctor to help people, not make a killing? this woman could easily pay her expenses, all of them, and make a decent living and still charge far far far less than she charges. yes, doctors charge too much across the board. of course. but first of all, i often stay for an hour when i see a doctor. i ask a lot of questions, and most doctors oblige. that is my right as a patient. most docs don;t complain. the good ones don't. yes, docs charge too much. that needs to change. but again, that is an important but entirely separate issue than doctors like sajben. most doctors mostly allow insurance, so you and i don't have to pay for it out of our pocket. that is the fundamental difference. only wealthy people can see doctors like her. and she clearly does not care. she told me that there are plenty of people who pay her fees. yes. but not people who are struggling financially. not regular folks. she does not have to charge that much to make an honest and good living. give me a break.

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  4. Pure greed. There are plenty of good pain specialists around who charge a fraction of these rates and who do get most of it covered by insurance. I saw one a few years ago at Alvarado who was compassionate and affordable. Run, don't walk, away from this woman who seems far more interested in money than patient care. I also suggest you complain to the State Board of Medical Quality Assurance about her.

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    1. Thanks very much, anonymous. Please tell me specifically about this pain specialist at Alvarado. I have been to a pain clinic at UCSD. They tried to help me, and it was covered by my insurance, but they don't really offer many alternative medical options or anything that is "out of the box" for pain that is hard to diagnose. And if possible, please leave your name on comments. I generally dojn;t post anonymous comments on my news blog for obvious reasons. Thanks!

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  5. Jamie, you know better than anyone how badly broken the American health care system has been for decades. If you can not find a pain management specialist willing to work with your insurer through traditional referrals why not look south. There are excellent hospitals in Merida, Mexico City and Guadalajara which charge a fraction of the fees of US doctors. They are filled with ex-pats. You could use the money you save to bring the family on vacation. That's called exercising your rights under the good old free enterprise system. Even in Belize we have excellent doctors in some fields. We also, as one of the poorest countries in Latin America/Caribbean, have free national health care which is excellent for basic needs. The US can't even do that for its own people.Meanwhile my prayers are with you.

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    1. Bob, thanks. Respectfully, that is a real simplification of a complex problem for cancer patients. There are all kinds of charlatans south of the border. I have been to many of the clinics in Mexico. Some offer legit services, others serve up total quackery. It is s constant and tiring challenge for someone who is sick and in pain to distinguish between the good and the bad south of the border. If you know of a specific pain clinic near the border - I can't drive far or fly at all because of my pain - then I'm all ears.

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  6. Great review! good experience what your shared that is really inseparable, i appreciate your courageousness.thanks for sharing such a useful post

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  7. Dear Jamie,

    Hi, my name is Mary Ferlauto. I live in Rockland County NY. I suffer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Small Fiber peripheral neuropathy, MS, Fibromyagia and compounded PTSD just to name the main things. I received a ketamine coma in NYC on October 2nd this month. For the second time I developed Ketamine Cystitis which has effected my Brain, Bladder, Kidneys, Liver and I have yet to find out what else. Being sick and in pain yourself you can imagine the level of my depression and feelings of hopelessness. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your article. I was considering alternative methods such as Ayahuasca and Ibogaine. I am part of a Medchat group and somebody suggest to contact Dr. Sajben in San Diego. I googled her name and it came up with several articles. By Gods good grace I pressed your article first and am so very grateful that I did. I did as you asked and called the number written in your article to speak with this doctor and tell her exactly what I thought of her making herself rich off peoples pain. The call would not connect so I decided to leave a comment so I could thank you for being such a caring man that you would write this article about a doctor doing something so wrong it makes me physically sick. I like most pain patients am on disability and $400 plus a flight to CA would of destroyed me more than these diseases are. I want you to know that you definetely saved me from what I see as pure evil. Thank you. I am an extremely spiritual person and will include you in my daily prayers and pray you find a kind doctor to get you out of pain as soon as possible. I myself am without a doctor also that is willing to treat my pain. Doctors literally come out and tell me the truth that they are greatly afraid of the DEA. I had a doctor that said if I could get the DEA to write a letter that they wouldn't loose their liscense if they treated me that he would. I called the DEA and told them of my medical issues and they said to me "If I was you I would sue that doctor for using us as an excuse to not treat your pain", but would not give any document to help me. Since this all happened the doctor that was halfway treating me left the practice to start a holistic practice because of his fear of writing narcotics. My level is so high I literally see stars sometimes. From the ketamine coma my brain still feels like it's swimming in ketamine. CRPS/RSD is nick named the suicide disease. On the pain scale it is higher than Child birth, limb amputation and cancer, yet no one will get me out of pain. Thank you for helping me and I pray you yourself find relief soon. Kindest regards, Mary Ferlauto

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    1. Mary, I wish you the very best, thanks for your thoughtful reply here. How do you get disability if you are freelance writer who is self employed? I am in massive pain every minute of every day and have been for a decade, and I've never even attempted to get disability but I think maybe I deserve it. How do I even go about it? I do have health insurance.

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