Healthcare That Makes You Sick and Bankrupt

Ed Raymond

Whatta Deal! A Heart Transplant Only Runs $1,698,831.13!  

   Ten years ago our life expectancy plateaued—and then we started to lose years of life. Every other industrialized country has gained years. A study claims this has happened because of drug overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related diseases, and obesity. The age group 25-64 is dying at ever-increasing rates. During the ten-year span obesity mortality rates increased 114% (71% of Americans are obese), hypertension and heart 78.9%, and alcohol-related diseases such as chronic liver and cirrhosis increased 40.6%. In a 20-year span death by drug overdose increased 386.5%. All of the below listed expenditures on world healthcare are two years old, so actually the comparisons are worse at the end of 2019.

   Although we are the only industrialized country that does not have universal care, we spend twice as much per person on healthcare than other modern countries (and we still have 87 million people either uninsured or underinsured): United States-$10,348, Germany-$5,551, Sweden-$5,448, Netherlands-$5,385, Belgium-$4,840, Canada-$4,763, Australia-$4,708, France-$4,600, Japan-$4,519,United Kingdom-$4,192. Buried among the world statistics is the reason our healthcare is so expensive and is such a disaster for the bottom 70%. We have the fewest physician consultations and doctor visitations than any other country on the above list. The other countries averaged 7.6 per person consultations per year to our 3.9 per year. In other words we get a lot less medical attention and advice than patients in other countries. Why? Because we have 2.6 doctors per 1,000 compared to the average of 3.9 doctors per 1,000 in the above countries—and the co-pays, deductibles, and private insurance is so expensive most of the U.S. middle class that is left can’t afford to see a doctor.  

Here Are Additional Reasons Why We Need To Pass A Universal Care and Single-Payer Program In 2020  

1. A helicopter ride from an accident far from a hospital may save your life---but it could put you in debt for life. Perhaps every driver should have this message tattooed on the chest: “Do not put me on a helicopter or airplane in case of accident.” The cost of a helicopter ride to a hospital now averages $39,000. That’s ten times what Medicare presently pays for the service—because air ambulance rates have increased 60% in the last four years to a median of $39,000 a trip. Many air ambulance companies are not part of an insurance network so huge bills in excess of $40,000 are often levied. Does a helicopter really cost $238 a mile? Do you know why private-equity companies have recently invested in air ambulance corporations? The answer is: profits!

2. A recent U.S. law requires hospitals to post prices of health procedures. As an example, New York Presbyterian Hospital lists a single cotton ball at $1.15. A package of 200 sells for $1,89 at Target. I would imagine hospitals can make a deal on cotton balls, but, if they buy them from Target, the hospital can make a profit of $228.11 on a package! Having seven children we have spent some time and money in hospitals. I remember being charged $17 for a box of Kleenex about 40 years ago. I remember battling Blue Cross for over a year because we were charged four times the “usual customary rate” for a broken leg at a Wisconsin ski area. I finally won that battle. Notice: Always carry your cell phone. in case of accident and you’re lying in the ambulance gurney, you can call local providers on your way to see which one will give you the best deal for your type of injury. Need a skull x-ray? Orlando Health will charge you $695. The average national cost is $190. New York University Langone Hospital lists a heart transplant at $1,698,831,13. The average cost nationwide is $1.4 million. I wonder what the 13 cents is for. Need a flu shot in San Antonio? Get it at Baptist Medical Center for $53.70. Methodist Hospital charges $32.97 more.

3. Andrej had a rather bad bicycle accident resulting in six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken finger, a broken collar bone, and a broken shoulder blade. His wife decided to keep a record of his medical costs: $182 for basic blood test, $9,289 for two days in intensive care, $20 for a Tylenol pill, plastic neck brace for $319 (which he didn’t need), $120 for a sling that sells for $15 at Wahlgrens, $7,143.99 for emergency room, $3,400 for “high level room visit”(?), $1,230 for trauma surgeon, $3,300 for CT scans, $350 each for four injections, $1,512 to take care of finger fracture and a few stitches, $646.15 for 30-minute physical therapy evaluation, $1,330 emergency room charge for changing a drug prescription, $481 for removing finger splint, $375 for office visit, and a $103 “facility fee.”

4. Aruzhan Tolebay, a 20-year-old Florida International University student from Kazakhstan who moved here in 2016 to study hospitality management, had paid for a health insurance policy when she enrolled. But she has already maxed it out at a $500,000 annual cap because she has lymphoblastic leukemia and is bald from chemotherapy. Her latest bill in December was $201,987.85. One of her teachers has started a GoFundMe effort for her. Her total bills might be well over $1 million.

5. If there were a “Crazy Medical Bill of the Month” contest this one might win it. Alexa Kasdan of Brooklyn had a bad cold, was afraid it might be strep, so went to an emergency room for a checkup. She had a throat swab and a blood test. Test was negative but she was given an antibiotic just in case. Her bill? Only $28,395.50!

6. The drug Humira is used to treat several problems, including Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. It costs the English National Health Service 1,409 euros a packet while Medicare pays 8,115 euros for the same packet. A euros was worth about $1.11 last fall. Maybe a congressperson could tell us why we pay so much.

7. A patient named Cynthia completed an experimental but very taxing cancer drug therapy. She was in extreme pain so went to an emergency room for help. She was given pain medicine and was charged $1,000 for the emergency room and $600 for a few minutes with a doctor. Earlier she had been hospitalized for a few days and was billed over $10,000.

8. According to experts, we are in an oral health care crisis because 114 million Americans do not have dental insurance. Almost 50 million live in towns with no dentists at all. They say we are in crisis because 90% of all systemic diseases start with the teeth or lack thereof. The barriers for care for 75% of Americans are costs and access to dental care. Over 80% of Americans believe Medicaid and Medicare should provide dental care. Over 50% of Americans say dental care is their top health concern. I still remember my first dental care came at 19 while going through Marine Corps basic training. I have lost 30% of my teeth to football, accidents, and decay. That’s life.

9. Why does a mammogram in Philadelphia run $150 in one hospital and $550 in another?        Why does a lower back scan cost $150 in Louisiana and up to $7,500 in California?  

When Will Republicans Accept That Healthcare Is A Fundamental Human Right?     

   So far Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Doctor, and Big Hospital have dominated health policy in the United States by buying, leasing, or renting politicians at the federal level. Big Pharma always raises prices in January in assuring big profits in the new year. Prices on hundreds of widely used drugs have already been raised an average of 5.8%. Pfizer, Inc. leads the pack by increasing prices by 9%. Oh—and I need to mention Big Pharma in past years has always increased prices at midyear also. More than 60 drug companies raised their prices on Wednesday, January1. It’s become a tradition. Last year 50 drug companies raised their prices 6% on January 1. This year they’re giving us a big break! Last year 36 million Americans had new prescriptions in their hands but couldn’t afford to have them filled.  

   Hospital administrators claim the quality of medical services improves when mergers are made. Between 2009 and 2013 over 250 hospitals were acquired by others. Executives claim that greater size makes for better quality because of equipment and personnel changes. That’s baloney. The New England Journal of Medicine, the bible of medicine, recently reported that a study by Harvard University indicated quality did not improve but-of course-prices were immediately raised an average of 6%! Maybe executives were thinking that their wallets improved.  

In 2020 We Need to Adopt Single-Payer Medicare-for-All To Stop The Bleeding     

Research indicates that the dozens of industrialized nations that have single-payer or universal care systems all spend half of what we do, have better medical results, and cut their administrative costs down to about 2%. We spend up to 30% on administration—and profits--because we have thousands of insurance companies, each with different forms and procedures. Have our politicians had political lobotomies to put up with this crap?

   Our healthcare “system” is a Rube Goldberg contraption that doesn’t work. Rube was a famous cartoonist who created complicated machines to perform very simple tasks. He developed the self-operating napkin to wipe the chin: Lifting a spoon

(A) pulls a string

(B) that jerks a ladle

(C) that then throws a cracker

(D) past a parrot

(E) When the parrot jumps for the cracker, it’s perch (F) tilts and drops seeds

(G) into a pail

(H) The extra weight in the pail pulls a cord

(I) that opens and lights an automatic cigar lighter

(J) which sets off a rocket

(K) that causes a sickle

(L) to cut a string

(M) that allows a pendulum with a napkin attached to it to swing back and forth to wipe the skin. That’s our health “system.”   

   Rube’s “creativity” reminds me of the 28 years I spent at negotiation tables representing teachers, administrators, and the Fargo School Board in salary and fringe benefit negotiations. Healthcare costs and insurance premiums always played a major role in determining the total cost of personnel. There are hundreds of details that go into making a deal. Are you in-network or out-of network? Reports from your insurance company are always mystifying. Let’s see. The provider billed $801.40 for ARTHOPLASTY 27130 but the total approved cost was $191.64 and the Plan’s share was $188.57, and my share was$0.00. Ever try to understand one of those reports? Ridiculous—and actually worse than Rube. If you are a visitor to France which has universal care and you have a medical problem, the French treat it—and don’t even send you a bill! The government covers it. Now that is a civilization to learn from.

   Economists have concluded that Medicare For All would reduce healthcare costs by 10%, and the Urban Institute estimates that households and businesses would save $21.9 trillion over ten years. Medicare For All means MEDICAL CARE FOR ALL.