How About a Price List at the Hospital or Doctor’s Office?
In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to have very good health insurance. And before health insurance, I had the National Health Service in Britain. So it’s fair to say I haven’t really been fully invested in the healthcare debates that have steadily increased in the U.S. over the last few years. However, after recent events in both my life and the lives of friends and family around me, I am becoming more and more frustrated (and outraged) at the current state of healthcare in this country.
In my days in England, a trip to the Emergency Room was just something that happened. Costs were not considered as it was all paid for through taxes. If you got sick, you went to the E.R. The same applied to any other kind of care, including routine operations, dental work, mental health and more.
But fast forward a decade and I find myself looking at medical bills that just leave me scratching my head. And I know I’m not the only one.
Recently, my wife was having very intense pains her arm, enough for her to call me crying in agony. I obviously told her to go straight to the doctor, but he couldn’t see her. There were no appointments for days. That left the E.R. So, she managed to get herself there, with two kids in tow, and received treatment. She was in the E.R. for an hour or so, had some X-Rays, a shot of muscle relaxer, and was given a prescription for the pain.
The co-pay for that little excursion was $150, which we happily paid. $150 for treatment and peace of mind that my wife was OK seemed a small price to pay.
That was just the start of the bills. A few months later, we received a bill from the doctor on call that day, for around $600. And then, a week later, another bill from the hospital, and this one was close to $3,000! I couldn’t believe it. Less than 90 minutes in the E.R. a couple of X-Rays and a shot of muscle relaxant came to the same price as a very nice 1 carat engagement ring!
I looked through the bills and got nothing from them. They were muddled, confusing (purposely I believe) and used terminology that was impossible to decipher.
Our insurance company negotiated a big chunk of it for us, but we’re still out of pocket for much more than we can afford this month, and next month, and the month after. We will have to pay it, of course.
Then I started asking around and heard very similar stories. E.R. visits are costing people a fortune. A real fortune. And people have neither the knowledge nor the abilities to fight the bills and decipher the confusing medical terminology. Overbilling is rife in the medical system, and if you are not an insurance company with a staff of experts on call, you’re out of luck, and out of pocket.
A friend of mine recently went to the E.R. suffering from chest pains. They ran a few tests, kept him in overnight, and discovered he had a pulled muscle in his chest. The prescription for ibuprofen helped. The bill a few months later for over $12,000 almost put his heart under serious pressure.
If he had known of the costs before he agreed to the treatment, he could have made the decision to check himself out of the E.R. and spend the night at home. That alone would have cut the bill in half. He could the have came back the next day if the pains continued.
If my wife had been given a quote before her treatment, before she was admitted, of the $3800 bill that was about to be given to us, she may have asked for just the muscle relaxant and pain meds. No X-Rays, no 90-minute stay.
In fact, in most other professions, including the practice of law, you are given price quotes before you agree to anything. “My retainer is $1,200” a lawyer will say “and $300 an hour after that.” If you go to a mechanic, you are told the financial damage before anyone puts a wrench in the engine. At a restaurant, the prices are on display. Come to think of it, I can think of very few professions, if any, that have the billing free reign of the hospitals and doctors. It almost seems arbitrary what they can charge.
On a recent bill a doctor friend of mine received, he noticed a tetanus shot was priced at over $300. The actual price of the shot is under $30, and he should know…that’s what he pays. How can something be priced up by a factor of 10?!
Some will say that we shouldn’t know the costs, as it will stop the doctors from doing their jobs. Maybe. Maybe not. But I do know that as the price of healthcare continues to skyrocket with no oversight, and more and more families going bankrupt or falling deeply into debt because of medical bills, something must be done. And a price list at the entrance to the hospital or doctor’s surgery is start. A quote for the services about to be performed, even better. At least you don’t get a nasty surprise months after the event.
Do you agree? Do you have a better solution? Have you experienced nightmare medical bills. Let us know, and tell us how you handled them. In the meantime, I would strongly suggest everyone budget for unexpected medical costs, even if it's just $50 - $100 a month. Hopefully, you won't need to dip into it, but with healthcare costs becoming more and more outrageous, something tells me that won't be anywhere near enough.