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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


by Apparent Parent (bio)

Last fall, I shattered my kneecap in a hiking accident which has debilitated me to this day. I have had three surgeries, spent about seven weeks on crutches altogether, and spent way more time than I ever want to in a hospital. And this experience has given me a little insight into just how badly healthcare is run in this country. Is it the fault of doctors and hospitals? Partly, yes. But mostly no.

Looking at $6,000 of bills after my ridiculously expensive insurance payed $12,000 toward my first 48-hour hospital stay, I talked to a woman in billing about such line items as four $793 screws. My knee had two screws in it, the X-rays clearly show that. Yet they charged me for not two of these amazingly expensive pieces of hardware, but four. I spoke with her about 100-plus individual pharmacy charges when I refused almost all the medicine they offered me except one intravenous ibuprofen injection and two free samples of hydrocodone as I was leaving, because I suddenly reached a 16 on the 1-to-10 scale of pain. And I spoke with her about the overall ridiculous prices I am being forced to pay.

One item that especially galls me is called a PolarCare. It is a 12" x 12" x 12" cooler designed to pump cold water through a pipe to keep a constant ice pack of sorts on a knee injury. On the free market, we found these coolers from medical supply providers for between $100 and $150. I woke up with one on my leg with no foreknowledge or warning that they were going to ding me $728 for the thing, regardless of whether I wanted or needed it.

When confronted on this, the woman said the hospital can't do anything about the pricing of these things, because Medicare comes in and dictates exactly where their prices should be. They get constantly audited by Medicare to see that their prices are in line with national expectations set by, you guessed it, Medicare. Thanks Medicare for enforcing a mere 700 percent markup (on the one item I could check up on easily) from full retail to someone who is already coping with the injury itself.

Additionally, the woman informed me government saw fit to do this because there used to be a "problem" where one doctor would come in and undercut the prices of other doctors in the area. Some "problem." That's like Newt Gingrich attacking Mitt Romney for "seeming perfect." This is a problem I would love to see return to healthcare. The problem is, healthcare is no longer part of the free market because, let's see ... government decided it should be a socialistic endeavor. I told her it was a messed up system, that I could wake up from a surgery, not take drugs I get charged for anyway and have to pay huge markup on all sorts of line items of which I had no foreknowledge.

"Yes and no," the woman said.

"Just yes," I said.

"Yes and no," the woman repeated as if I weren't seeing the wonders of Medicare pricing.

"Only yes. It's a messed up system," I said. I soon apologized that it was her job to deal with angry people all day when it wasn't her fault.

This got me thinking, what if restaurants and hospitals both had intervention from the government on how their businesses should be run? You would show up at a restaurant only because the store ran out of food, so it was an emergency to get nourishment in your system somehow. Then, they would inform you they were going to put you to sleep with heavy anesthetics that would really screw with your system. They wouldn't give you a menu, you would just have a mystery food on your plate after you woke up.

"You won't like it much," they'd inform you. "In fact, it's so prickly that swallowing it will hurt. But you can take comfort in the fact that it will be far more expensive than we have any right to charge you. You want to know how much more expensive? No, we only divulge that information during our lengthy billing process, where we hope your food insurance pays our insane prices, because, let's face it, with what we're asking for food you don't want or like, you aren't likely to be able to come up with the cash in your lifetime for the services we provide."

As they give this speech, they already have you on anesthetic, so you catch all of "You won't li ..." When you wake up, there is food kerplonked on a tray with horrible presentation. The food is of unknown origin. It looks like raw thistles, maybe?

"I can't eat that," you tell your waitress, who you summon with a red button on your adjustable booth. This is partly because you don't feel like eating anymore because of the sedatives and partly because you would probably have to go to a hospital if you actually ate what they presented.

"I know," she replies cheerily, "that's why we pumped some food into your veins while you were knocked out." You then notice the IV in your arm. "Well, it's not so much food as nourishment. You'll be OK. Don't worry, we'll charge you for both anyway. It's for your own good."

"What's this meal going to cost me?"

"Gosh, I really have no idea," the waitress says. "I'll have to talk to billing, but they won't know what it costs until your restaurant stay is over, so ..."

"I get it," you say. "I'm hosed."

It would all be regulated by Foodicare, so the restaurant would have no hope of changing the way they did business or even lowering their prices anyway. So you'd have to go barking up that governmental redwood to get anywhere. And we all know how easy it is to be heard by the federal government.

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