A few weeks ago, I went to the ER for problems I worried were related to a congenital heart defect I have. It was a 2-hour visit. I had bloodwork and an ECG. When I left, I wasn’t sure what my bill would be, since there is no transparency in medical costs in the US and the vast majority of doctors, clinics, and hospitals do not post the cost of their services in advance, and this ER was no different. Based on previous experience, I assumed it would be high.
I finally received 2 separate bills, 1 from the facility, 1 from the doctor, which totaled $3,378.50 for a 2-hour trip to the ER and maybe 15 minutes of interaction with the doctor and nurse. 1/3 of the bill came from a “facility charge,” which basically means pretty much everyone who goes to this facility, before they ever receive any treatment, is billed $1000. They charged me $68 for pulse ox. I could buy a fingertip pulse oximeter similar to the one they used on me for $35. What in the few seconds it took them to check this cost anywhere close to $68?!
Fortunately I have insurance, so I only have to pay a little over $300 for the visit, and fortunately, I make enough money that a $300 bill isn’t going to break the bank, but I live in the state that is #1 for percentage of residents who are uninsured. 1 in 3 people living in the state of Texas have no health insurance, including 1.2 million children. Nearly 30% of Texas households make less than $25,000/year and an additional 27% make less than $50,000/year. My family makes a lot more than that. Our household income is in the top 10% for the state, which makes my experience where this is somewhat affordable the exception, not the rule. And I’m an exception everywhere in the US, not just in Texas. I can afford this. Most people can’t.
A $3,400 bill for 2 hours of health care is completely unacceptable, particularly when there is no reason for the cost of care to be this high other than to boost profit margins. The ER I went to is a branch of First Choice Emergency Room. In 2012, it brought in $98.5 million in profits. And First Choice is not alone in generating huge profits by inflating the cost of care, or even one of the biggest moneymakers in the healthcare industry. Its profits are dwarfed by those of my insurance company, which last year had $5 billion in profits. It is despicable that a small handful of people in this country hold other human being’s health and very lives as ransom in order to extort billions of dollars from them.
We have the most expensive, least effective healthcare system in the world, and it operates on extortion. Pay up or die. I don’t understand how this is legal.