by James Wallace Harris,
Having great health insurance doesn’t mean you won’t get billed for bankrupting procedures. Hospital stays are a frenzy of billable codes. True costs are revealed after the bills come in. Expensive procedures are sometimes done by non-networked doctors while you’re unconscious. You can be told to do things your insurance won’t cover. The costs of drugs are skyrocketing. What if you need medicine that drains your bank accounts? Do you choose poverty or living?
I’m reading An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal. Rosenthal carefully chronicles how medical costs have risen since the advent of health insurance. Most people won’t read this book because they don’t worry about the future. They won’t start worrying until a certified summons arrives via FedEx from a collection agency lawyer notifying them of their court date.
I worry about the future all the time, which is why I love books like An American Sickness. It bothers me that my country is so third-world when it comes to healthcare. Conservative scream about the dangers of socialized medicine, but they are only mouthpieces for the plutocrats who make billions off of the healthcare crisis. So many other nations around the world have practical healthcare policies that are affordable. Americans are told other countries have horrible healthcare, but that doesn’t appear to be true. The United States has premier medical treatment if you have the money. Since plutocrats have money, that’s all they care about. They don’t care about us.
Reading An American Sickness is about the unfairness of our system. Our healthcare system is based on greed, and most folks ignore this outrage as long as they don’t see it on the bills they receive. The medical industrial complex is in cahoots with the health insurance industry. Both are making obscene amounts of money. As long as we’re not personally billed for those huge costs we choose to ignore their crimes.
Doctor, hospital, and drug costs are now growing too big to ignore – so we do need to look at what they’re doing. And some of those costs are being passed onto us. Rosenthal has done a great job of packaging what we need to know in one easy-to-read volume. Her book is painful to study because it will make you feel helpless. Our system is thoroughly corrupted. However, she does offer knowledge and advice that can help in little ways at the personal level.
Interestingly, the corruption works within the rules. The unethical audacity of the greedy scam the system usually within the laws. But like Wall Street, they are clever about finding loopholes, getting laws changed, or buying off congressmen (in perfectly legal ways). The reason why Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to repeal Obamacare is that they don’t want medical costs contained. Healthcare will generate trillions in wealth if we allow the greedy free reign. Great for fat cats siphoning off wealth from everyone else, but rather hard on us ordinary tabbies.
Elisabeth Rosenthal is the Editor-in-Chief for Kaiser Health News. Here’s a sample of her writing online:
- Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? They’re One Reason Health Care Costs So Much – The New York Times
- Series: Paying Till It Hurts – The New York Times
- Her columns at The New York Times
If you aren’t ready to read her book, here are some useful articles to read online. But they just scratch the surface compared to the coverage in the book.
- Surprise! Insurance Paid the E.R. but Not the Doctor – The New York Times
- Surprise Medical Bills: Why They Occur and What To Do – Forbes
- 10 Statistics about US Medical Debt that Will Shock You – National Bankruptcy Forum
- What is Upcoding in Medical Bills? – Very Well
- Upcoding – Healthcare and Medical Fraud – Whistleblowers International
- Reading Your Doctor’s Medical Services Receipt – Very Well
- Patient’s Guide to Medical Codes – Very Well
- Surprising Things Not Covered by Health Insurance – Very Well
- Why You Pay More if You’re Hospitalized for Observation – Very Well
- Drug costs skyrocket for many older Americans, despite Medicare coverage – L. A. Times
- Why Are Drug Prices So High? We’re Curious Too. – The New York Times
- Amid Opioid Crisis, Insurers Restrict Pricey, Less Addictive Painkillers – The New York Times
I have a feeling this subject is boring to most people. Worrying out healthcare costs is like worrying about identity thief. I asked a bunch of my friends what they were doing about the Equifax brouhaha and most said nothing. I think we tend to put things off until a crowbar slams across our hands. We’re already in a crisis and its starting to pain many. The Republicans are once again trying to repeal Obamacare. Don’t wait until it’s too late to react.
3 thoughts on “The Shock of Suprise Medical Bills”
Well, Jim – we are in the same boat, and most of my friends are as well. Some of us have better paying systems up front, but we are all subject to the vagaries of the system.
I can’t speak with knowledge of the way the system actually works. I am subject to it, and there fore haven’t a clue (since the system operates at a level I’m not privy to). I only know that I can get access to health care if I insist on it.
That doesn’t mean I get access to a full-on, ready to go team of medical professionals who are ready to provide services. It means that if I can negotiate the system well enough, I can get what I need. Assuming I know what I need.
I’ve just changed from a plan that is part of UHC to the Kaiser Plan (SoCal only AFAIK), something that I refrained from doing for 20+ years. I haven’t read her book, but I have been convinced by family members to make the change.
I will be glad to let you know more – when I know more.
Both the book and comments touch on one of the worst aspects of healthcare in the US, and one reason why we need a system that is both universal and SIMPLE, without tiers, means testing, age buckets, provider networks, etc. Some call it the Time Tax, the sheer amount of time and energy required to deal with the system even for those lucky enough to have decent insurance coverage. This is a particularly painful issue for those of us who have not so much time left to spend, and unfortunately isn’t limited to healthcare but is endemic to almost all our dealings with the neoliberal corporate environment we live in. As you say, often we aren’t even aware of many problems until they smack us in the face (I think that’s the case with a lot of people who are described as “happy” with their current health insurance.)
For several years I’ve been considering the idea of living a semi-nomadic life in an RV or boat, both to lower expenses and to enjoy what time I have left. Sadly, this is yet another instance where Obamacare, with its mandatory geographically based narrow networks, has made getting healthcare even harder for quite a few people. This is an artifact of choosing a complex, public/private, employer based structure which by its nature can’t adequately suit a large population with diverse lifestyles.