The Scandal of Health Care
Because of presidential politics, the topic of Obamacare will continue generating more heat than light during 2016. Yet this controversy often overlooks a bigger scandal: the enormous costs ladled on to our medical bills by the system’s bureaucratic jumble.
I think back several years to the time my primary care doctor blessed me with about three months of samples of prostate medication—in pre-generic days, a rather hefty savings.
A year later when I asked for more samples, he replied, “There’s so much government regulation now that I would have to hire another person just to oversee that, and we can’t afford it.”
My first direct experience with the wildly-inflated costs brought on by all this paperwork processing involved a friend who needed an MRI. At the time, he and I were part of the same health care cost sharing network, which carried a $2,500 annual deductible.
When he asked what an MRI would run, the woman told him a little over $2,700. When he asked what it would be if he paid cash for the test and didn’t run it through insurance, she said, “That would be $348.”
Seeing the wisdom of paying $348 instead of $2,500, he chose cash.
Both of us have since changed plans. The one I’m part of now covers any single expense over $500. For routine check-ups or minor tests under $500, I don’t even turn in the bill. I just pay immediately after requesting (and receiving) a cash discount since the doctor won’t have to fool with insurance forms.
This kind of negotiating as a self-pay patient used to intimidate me. When I saw the chance to save more than $200 a month compared to my old plan, I decided it was time to give it a try.
Tips for Saving $$$
Several months ago, my current network’s newsletter carried an article about ways to save money on health care costs. The stories in it contained a rather jaw-dropping quality.
The first tip concerned comparison shopping to get the best price and a pair of websites to start the process: healthcarebluebook.com and pricinghealthcare.com.
Two letters were included with this tip. The first came from a man in Kentucky who mentioned needing an MRI after a bicycle accident. The hospital quoted a price of $4,400, but as a self-paying patient they would lower it to $829. He wound up doing even better; his doctor told him about another provider that did it for $600.
A man from Missouri who needed a CT scan contacted a medical center his urologist recommended. Their price: nearly $1,400. Instead, he called a dozen other radiology centers and found one that would do the scan for $313 if he paid for it that day. That meant a two-hour drive, but for $1,087 one can buy a lot of gasoline.
The cost of health care coverage is another staggering item. Right now I pay $150 a month with a deductible that works out to about $1,000 a year. That compares to a recent “affordable” plan I heard about that costs the individual $600 a month and carries a $6,000 deductible.
When an old friend told me his federally-backed plan also had a $6,000 deductible (and a $6,000 deductible for his wife), I told him, “If I had to pay that kind of money for health care, I’d go broke.”
The moral of the story: if we expect a giant bureaucracy to take care of all our health care problems, we are sadly deceived. It may take a little time, effort, and negotiating, but cost savings are there for the determined individual.
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