Several weeks ago, locally and nationally, a big story broke indicating there are huge differences in the amount charged by hospitals for the same procedure in the same area.
Many people shrug off the charges made for health care, believing their health insurance will pay the bill.
A patient comes face to face with the real health care industry only when health issues arise that result in a bill to the patient. In the past, doctors and hospitals cast a wide net in order to snag every possible insurance dollar.
Today, the same inflated net is used, but now it is snagging the patient’s dollar, too. The problem is even worse for the person with no insurance, who pays at least 70 percent of the inflated figure.
Recently, I wrote about what I call the health profit industry (Health profit, Post and Courier, Feb. 20) discussing how it is eating us alive. I have personally encountered situations that illustrate why health care costs are twice as much as our industrial-nation counterparts. Consider the following true story.
For a recent visit to a local obstetrics department, a young pregnant lady received intravenous fluids over a six-hour period, while being observed in an exam room. The total bill was $2,495.86.
The care she received was good, but expensive. Two liters (about two quarts) of intravenous fluid came to $482, or $241 each. I found it on the Internet for $2.66 per liter, which shows about a 100 times mark-up.
The stopcock, a device connected into the intravenous tubing, controls the flow much like a faucet controls water flow from a sink. The charge for the stopcock, a small plastic piece the size of the end of your thumb, was $226.94. According to the patient (who is an obstetrics nurse), the device was not necessary. Online the price of the stopcock was $1.95 — showing a consistency with the mark-up rate of 100 times cost.
The tubing from the intravenous bag to the patient was billed by the hospital at $145. It can be obtained online for $1.79. The small plastic tubing that went into her arm was $33; the online cost was around $2.
The patient received terbutaline, a drug that stops unwanted premature contractions of the uterus. The cost to this patient was $64.84. A Canadian online site offers it for $1 per dose.
You might think the mark-up was high because the hospital care given was included in the materials cost, but labor and facility charges were yet another thing. Tending of the IV over a period of six hours was charged at a total of $755, with another $128 charge to start it, for a total of $833. The same nurse tending the IV also followed the obstetrics observation (that is, she kept an eye on the baby). This care generated a charge of $481. The nurse was not constantly at the bedside, but free to care for other patients.
A person looking at the resultant hospital bill would assume two people cared for the patient: one for the IV and one for the pregnancy condition. Not so. In other worlds, this is called double dipping.
In total, the patient’s care came to $1,364 or $227 per hour.
If each person studied his bill, we could begin to understand why health costs are prohibitive, and why many in our community and nation cannot afford health care. We are alone when we open these statements from providers and then sit in dark corners in resignation because we have no help.
To fight back, we, the general consumer, need a superhero. Our elected officials do not fit that description because they are receiving campaign donations from hospitals and insurance companies. Lobbying efforts by the health profit, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries are at the top of any list and out-distance all other lobbying groups by millions.
Where is Superman when we need him?
George F. Warren, M.D.
Isle of Palms
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