The expense of treating snake bites


For weeks now a king cobra has been on the loose in Central Florida.

Experts say it's unlikely anyone will be bitten by the snake, but if you were, what would it cost to save your life?

Hundreds of people are bitten by venomous snakes in Florida every year, costing thousands of dollars.

In 2012, Zachary Mazzocchi's heart stopped beating twice the day he was bitten by a coral snake.

ONLINE: Antivenin Frequently Asked Questions

The young boy was airlifted from his hometown of Naples to Miami-Dade Children's Hospital where the venom team took action.

"They didn't know what they were in for because they had never experienced such a young kid getting bit by a coral snake," Louis Mazzocchi, the boy's father said.

"They originally started with five. They thought five might be enough," he said speaking about antivenin.

Doctors injected five vials of antivenin into his son, but it would take double that amount to finally stabilize him.

"I remember being in complete shock," Zachery's mother, Michelle Mazzocchi said.

But sometimes a bigger shock comes later.

Across the country for many people who have been treated with antivenin, sometimes what hurts more than the snake bite is the bill that comes afterwards.

A U.C San Diego student got hit with a $140,000 bill after a rattle snake bite in 2012.

Another California man got a whopping $150,000 bill after getting antivenin.

"There is a snake antivenom crisis in the world today," Dr. Leslie Boyer said.

Boyer is with the Viper Institute at the University of Arizona. She is overseeing the production of an experimental antivenin for coral snake bites.

She says antivenin is a problem worldwide, but the United States has a unique set of challenges.

"When its priced so high that we read news reports about it, and we hear that people are sometimes not getting it because of price, it becomes worrisome from a medical point of view," she said.

Boyer says antivenin can be as inexpensive as $14 dollars a vial to make, yet U.S. patients can end up paying thousands of dollars per vial.

"There's a couple thousand dollars worth of profit in there divided among the person holding the license, the wholesaler, the hospital itself," she said.

"It turns out that's bureaucracy, American bureaucracy," Boyer said.

She says similar products are produced for much less money in other countries.

Everyone agrees that antivenin saves lives but the debate is over what it should cost.

In most cases, people with insurance are only responsible for a portion of their hospital bills, including the antivenin.

If you don't have insurance you could be stuck with the whole thing, according to Boyer.

Troy Johns, who was bitten by a coral snake last week in Volusia County, is still waiting to learn what he will be charged for the antivenin.