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The High Cost of Healthcare

healthcareI got into it a bit with Register editorial writer Alan Bock last March at the Obama Town Hall in Costa Mesa, the one with an emphasis on healthcare, about healthcare reform.  I’m in favor of a single player healthcare system that makes insurance accessible and affordable for all Americans; this wouldn’t replace private insurance if provided through an employer or purchased separately, but would be a viable option for millions of uninsured Americans who often put off healthcare services until a trip to the emergency room is needed.  Alan thinks if I want government healthcare, I ought to join the armed forces or something.  At least that’s why he suggested in his blog post about the Obama event (and I’m heartbroken you didn’t know it was me Alan).

And the Register’s Orange Grove column today offers this opinion against a government run healthcare option was being “articifically” low cost.  Sam Smith, a VP of Public Affairs for the California Association of Health Underwriters, says based on underpayments by Medicare and Medicaid, new government health insurance would result in insurers shifting underpayments costs to private insurers, increasing premiums. 

“But paying less for a service does not necessarily mean that service cost less. Health care providers don’t just gladly accept whatever the government gives them. As a matter of financial necessity, they shift unpaid costs to private payers.”  No mention of the enormous profits these insurance companies make, often by denying coverage. 

I tried to explain to Alan that as it stands now, my doctor and I can make a decision about my health and a course of action ror treatment (in this case, surgery I had last November), but my insurance company simply wouldn’t comply even though I jumped through every hoop they presented me.  It finally took a call to as supervisor’s supervisor with the insurance company and the threat of a lawsuit to get a surgery date (make sure your lawyer is on the line with you).  Had the decision been left to a “government bureaucrat” who didn’t have a profit motive vested by denying my coverage, I’m pretty certain my doctor’s and my decision to have the surgery would have been granted much sooner.

Which all takes me back to the high cost of healthcare. 

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, my nine-year-old daugter complained of pain in her jawline and in the side of her face.  We took her to urgent care, pretty certain she was coming down with an earache.  The doctor checked her ears and said no sign of an infection and prescribed Children’s Tylenol.  Four hours later, about two hours after she went to bed, Maddie woke up screaming.  The left side of her face had swollen like she had been punched and she could barely open her jaw.  We went to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s in Orange at 11PM on a Sunday night. 

In our five and a half hours in the emergency room, Maddie had a blood test, was given a painkiller, and we were given a prescription for an antibiotic to treat a block salivary gland.  No x-rays, no CAT-scans, no emergency surgery.  The medicine did the trick and she was back at school a day later.  I’m pleased with the care we received from the medical professionals at St. Joe’s. 

The invoice came in the mail today.  Its been submitted to the insurance company (we paid a $75 co-pay that night).  The bill was $3,248 and change.  That’s $590.55 an hour and most of that time was spent waiting.  $60 for sterile supply?  Really?  I have to believe the tongue depressor and gauze pads they used couldn’t have cost more than a few bucks retail. 

So what are we paying for?  We’re paying the high cost of providing healthcare to the uninsured.  We’re paying for the high cost of malpractice insurance.  We’re paying to make sure drug companies and medical device providers get their profits.  We’re paying a lot more for healthcare than other industrialized nations in the world. 

We need healthcare reform in this country.  And while the president will stick his hand out to the Republicans in Congress to work on a bi-partisan solution, this is one of those times we don’t need Republicans to block meaningful healthcare reform.  Elections have consequences and there are enough Democratic votes to pass meaningful healthcare reform legislation without the Republicans. 

Do I want a government bureaucrat involved in making healthcare decisions? As long as there’s not profit to be made in denying me a course of treatment by a profit-driven insurance company employee, then yes, I’d be happy to have a government bureaucrat make these decisions based on directions from my doctor.

So what are we waiting for?