Sunday, April 14, 2013

Time Magazine on Health Care

If citizens of the United States wanted to increase their blood pressure and heart rate, they have missed an opportunity if they failed to read a recent issue of Time magazine. The March 4 special edition was almost totally dedicated to discussing health care in the USA.

The Time article documents that we, in the United States, are not getting what we pay for.  While medical providers like to tout the U.S. as leading in the world in the quality of health care, they are not giving us, the consumers, the true picture.  Several Third World countries have a lower infant mortality rate than does the United States. Added to that, we in Texas have, on average, more uninsured children than any other state in the union--1.2 million of them--and their prospects for having health coverage in the immediate future appears to be extremely dim based on Governor Perry's political grandstanding about health care.

The recent article in the Houston Chronicle citing much of the information published in Time magazine rendered the opinion that if the amount of money paid for our medical treatment were no more than what is paid for similar treatments in Switzerland, our national debt would almost disappear in the next year or two.

The Time magazine article reminds us that when it comes to health care, sick people are generally not in a position to bargain or haggle over price.  Most of us seeking a return to good health will quickly submit to whatever is told to us by doctors, nurses, or hospital bureaucrats.  In the process, as has been pointed out time and time again, we pay exorbitant prices for procedures which oftentimes cost hospitals very little.  One example cited in the article was the charge to a patient of a particular treatment using a machine which was purchased by the hospital for only $19,000.  The patient's charge for using the machine as a diagnostic tool for one application cost the patient more than the purchase price of the machine.  Other examples were cited such as the cost of $1.75 for a single Tylenol capsule. 

A classic example of the overcharges of some hospitals, even in this area, resulted in a lawsuit which I handled a few years back.  A friend of mine had a mild heart attack and checked in one of our local health providers.  He was there only 48 hours and was charged approximately $60,000 for his visit.  He did not have health insurance and wanted, as any good citizen would, to pay his bill.  He offered to pay $1,000 a month until the bill was resolved.  This offer was quickly rejected.  After several months of haggling, the hospital finally agreed they would take $15,000.  Unfortunately, my friend did not have $15,000 cash, but again offered to pay it off in installments of $1,000 per month.  This too was refused and the offer withdrawn since he could not pay it all in a lump sum.  The hospital followed through with their threat of a lawsuit, which I was required to answer for my friend.  As part of the discovery of the lawsuit I demanded and received an itemized billing for the $60,000.  I managed to obtain a copy of costs to another hospital for the same items listed on the suing institution.  Mark up, for example, on the stints used in the heart procedure were over 500%.  Similar charges were made throughout for items costing as little as a few cents for which the hospital was charging several dollars.

Fortunately for my friend, the suit was based on what is called in legal terms a “sworn account” by which the keeper of the records of the suing party must execute an affidavit that the charges sued for were both reasonable and necessary.  When I challenged the lawyer for the hospital to submit the issue of whether or not the hospital's charges were reasonable, it seemed the urgency of seeking a trial date disappeared.  The matter lingered on for several years and eventually we were able to settle it for a small fraction of the initial demand, and my client was able to pay that smaller amount in installments.  More people need to challenge grossly over-bloated medical charges and at the same time we need to be communicating with our U.S. senators, representatives and members of state legislatures to try to do something to get a handle on overblown medical charges.  Otherwise, more of our citizens will go bankrupt, and our national debt will continue to spiral.

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