Is it fair to criticize Mark Zuckerberg for the controversial billing practices of the San Francisco hospital named after him?

Mark ZuckerbergMariana Bazo/Reuters
  • The billing practices of the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital are under fire after a Vox article detailed how some privately insured patients have been surprised to receive a bill as high as five figures.
  • The public hospital was named after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, after the couple made a $75 million donation in 2015 to build a trauma center. 
  • Some people are now criticizing Zuckerberg himself on social media, despite the fact that he has no impact on the day-to-day operations of the hospital.

People are criticizing Mark Zuckerberg for the billing practices of a San Francisco-based hospital named after him that has reportedly left some privately insured patients with five-figure debts.

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, formerly called San Francisco General Hospital, was named after the Facebook founder in 2015 after he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, made a $75 million donation. However, Zuckerberg himself has no impact on the day-to-day operations, though it is largely associated with his likeness.

Emergency room bills reviewed by Vox detailed how the hospital is considered "out-of-network" for those with private insurance. This means it doesn't accept the kind of health-insurance coverage that most people get through their jobs, which can leave people with large bills if they visit the hospital for care - for example, one woman ended up with a $31,250 bill for a broken ankle.

On social media, some people have been criticizing the Facebook founder for the hotel's policies, showing just how sticky it can be to have a hospital with your name on it. 

But the crucial context is that Zuckerberg is not currently involved in implementing policy at the hospital. The public hospital, in its own words, is there to serve those who are "underserved" by only accepting public health coverage (i.e. Medicaid, Medicare, and all the programs that fall underneath), according to the Vox report. 

Yes, "the less sexy reality," as one Googler put it, is far more nuanced. But with his name front and center on the hospital, the Facebook CEO has found himself in this position before. Take for example just last month, when a San Francisco politician asked the city attorney to remove Zuckerberg's name from the hospital amid Facebook's latest privacy scandal.

Though, the fact remains: denying all private insurance is quite rare and, frankly, frowned upon by many healthcare advocates.

The Vox report examines how when someone is involved in a traumatic accident near Zuckerberg Hospital, they are most likely going to be taken there - potentially without recollection or the ability to search for an in-network provider - making it more likely they will be surprised when the bill comes in the mail.

It's a valid concern, and some politicians are already looking into how to combat these "surprise" ER bills, but that's a different discussion than as to whether Zuckerberg is to blame for patient experiences at the hospital he donated to.

And finally, in case the answer to that sarcastic question wasn't clear -  no, Zuckerberg doesn't control what gets billed and how much.

Sarah Kliff, writer of the Vox piece, explains in her reporting how she found the city of San Francisco, or more pointedly, the city's Board of Supervisors, is the one setting the prices

 

 

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