Last Updated Oct 1, 2019 8:22 PM EDT
Molly McKenna was in agonizing pain last January when her fiancé rushed her to a Baylor Scott & White clinic in Austin, Texas.
"The doctor came in and said, 'Your ovary is a big hemorrhaging mess right now. We have to take that out,'" McKenna said.
One of her ovaries was twisting inward, cutting off the blood supply.
"It just got to the point where I could barely breathe," McKenna said.
She was transferred by ambulance to a larger Baylor Scott & White hospital for surgery. At each stop, the staff took her private insurance card. Yet a few weeks later, she was told much of her treatment was out-of-network. She owed more than $40,000.
"I remember crying. I was very upset," McKenna said.
McKenna is just one of over 600 people CBS News has heard from in our Medical Price Roulette series that highlights the financial gamble consumers face with medical care.
Insurance broker Lora Everist, who sold McKenna her insurance policy, said paying cash would have been cheaper.
"Nobody gave her the option to pay cash or self-pay," Everist said.
Everist said McKenna's insurance paid over $6,000 for the surgery. McKenna negotiated a few bills down, but Baylor Scott & White still wants $27,000 more.
"Because there is no guideline. There is no transparency. They can charge whatever they want," Everist said.
Baylor Scott & White responded, saying its facility charges are lower than other acute care hospitals in the region. But this case shows what they call an "opportunity for improvement," and they now say they'll be contacting McKenna to work toward solving her problem.
What should you do in an emergency?
There are a few things patients can do when faced with a medical emergency. First, find out now which hospitals are close to you that are in your network. Next, if it's not a life-threatening emergency, consider a cheaper walk-in or urgent care center. If you wind up in the emergency room, ask, or have someone with you ask, if the doctors treating you are in your network.
No one really knows what anything costs in health care — and too many people are getting surprise medical bills for thousands of dollars. In a new series, "Medical Price Roulette," CBS News will explore the reasons, and we're collaborating with journalists at ClearHealthCosts to bring transparency to health care markets.
We'd like to know what you paid for medical procedures. firstname.lastname@example.org learn how you can search ClearHealthCosts' database of prices in our sample markets. You can also email us at