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  Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Tuesday, 01 December, 2020


Date: 15 February, 2005

By: Chief

Imagef you ever, and I do mean ever, get sick enough that you are considering a trip to the hospital (the get well quick shop) or worse yet, the hospital emergency room (ER) I have some advice for you:


While the folks at the get well quick shop maybe able to fix whatever is ailing you that particular day or night, you will die from heart failure around three months later when the bill rolls in.

Back in February of last year I did take my wife into the ER one night (now you know why I am writing this story). She was in very severe pain and being that she has been diabetic for over 30 years I did not want to take a chance with her health. Neither did she. Add to that fact about 3 years ago she suffered a minor heart attack, well, it was off to the ER pronto.

We were in the ER for maybe two hours total. When we arrived I filled out the requisite ream of paperwork and the folks who were working the night shift took her straight away into the ER proper. One medical technician checked her vital signs while another hooked my wife up to an EKG machine to check her ticker out, a third technician, actually a vampire, took a bunch of blood draws. A nurse was right there as well clucking over her.

Within about 10 - 20 minutes we were told that she had not suffered another heart attack. Hey that was quite nice to hear. At the same time, however, she was still in quite severe pain. So over the next 30 minutes or so the nurse was trying to pry out of my wife just exactly where it hurt, what she had been doing, what she had eaten and so on and so forth in order to come up with some sort of a reasonable Scientific Wild Ass Guess (SWAG) as to what was wrong with her.

A fairly short time later, I hate hospitals — I can't smoke, a tentative SWAG or guess had been reached between the nurse, the lab results and my wife. Acid reflux. Oh joy.

So the nurse, armed with the lab results and the 'this is where it is hurting the patient', went to get a hold of the duty doctor and if he concurred issue what is known as a GI cocktail to my wife and then we would wait and see what, if anything, hopefully good, happened.

The doc apparently agreed with the nurse and a few more minutes after that my wife was presented with a small paper cup filled with a foul smelling, aren't they all(?), white liquid to drink. She did and within 1 or 2 minutes was doing just fine and dandy. The doc issued her a prescription for some type of pill for controlling the acid reflux. And then we were on our way home.

The total time we were in the ER was maybe two hours. The total face-to-face time with the doctor was maybe five minutes.

I told you that story to prepare you for this one and it is a hummer, by the way.

My wife and I both figured that the bill for her visit would probably not exceed $500.00 dollars. There was no surgery, no gas-passer, no none of the heavy duty and extremely costly items you read about in the papers or the horror stories that friends tell you about. There was nothing like that.

A couple of months passed by normally and finally the big day came. The hospital bill arrived. Remember that $500.00 estimate that we made? We were wrong.

$17,500 bucks and change

Now do you understand about the heart failure feature when the hospital bill does arrive that I wrote about at the beginning of this story? Yeah, well it came very close to happening to me.

I can fully understand paying the folks that work in hospitals a good salary and all. I can even understand lab tests might be slightly more expensive than dinner for two at Denny's. But $17,500 dollars for a two hour hospital stay — no surgery or nothing like that and 5 minutes — maybe — of the doctors time. Sheesh. If that is the norm, I'll take highway robbery any day. It would be far cheaper.

Now here is the kicker. My wife does not have health insurance. Period. She cannot get it because of the diabetes. She is not even eligible for my health insurance. Same reason. In the insurance world she is what is known as "uninsurable." Now ain't that just beer and 'tater chips?

Financially we get by, well, we are not broke but we will never be invited to join the rich and shameless club either. At the same time there was no way on Earth we had that kind of money in the bank. And that, friends and neighbors, is the crux of the matter. We ended up setting up a payment plan with the hospital finance office, one of those $50.00 dollars a month for 50 year routines. It really sucked.

A kind of one stop shopping, if you will. A get well quick shop and loan shark office all rolled into one bitter, convenient package. Isn't that just swell?

Which brings to the forefront the very singular issue of this whole ordeal. What do people who are uninsurable do when they get hit, just like we did, with a hospital bill from hell? I would hate to think what a major surgery would have cost. We possibly would have had to file a bankruptcy. Something I do not like but as a last resort it might have become necessary. It is unbelievable. Trying to save a husband, wife or kids life just might financially destroy the rest of the family's life.

I have discovered, much to my chagrin, that hospitals have a sliding fee schedule. In other words if you are insured by a major insurance company your insurance company would be billed 'X' amount for whatever procedure was used. If you have Medicare then Medicare would be charged 'Y' amount for whatever procedure was used. Lastly, if you have no health insurance you get charged 'Z' amount — the highest naturally — for whatever procedure was used.

The current system works great for people who are insurable because the insurance companies are quite adept at negotiating with hospitals and doctors. Therefore, as long as the person with the insurance stays semi-healthy, going to the get well quick shop becomes somewhat more bearable. Though it is never pleasant and insurance companies never pay the whole bill so you are stuck with what is left over.

There is a huge difference between the words 'reasonable' and 'highway robbery'. Hospital bills are above and beyond the highway robbery end of the scale. Indeed, if our bill was any indication hospital fees are way beyond any scale known to man.

I'll tell you right now that if hospitals do not start getting a grip on costs and controlling them, then it would not surprise me one little bit if personal bankruptcy filings increased dramatically and hospitals became a luxury item strictly for the rich and shameless.

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