In summer 2008, I was on a bus in downtown Salt Lake City. A few rows ahead, a guy pitched off the seat and slammed to the floor. He was having some kind of seizure. There were only a few people aboard; we alerted the driver and waited with the man until an ambulance arrived.
I went on my way, but was curious about the bus passenger. He looked scruffy and I wondered what his medical problems were and whether he had insurance. Fortunately for him, if he did not have insurance, at least our society provided him a bit of emergency care.
About a year later, I had a similar experience, this time as the patient. I got a fun ambulance ride and a whirlwind of attention from medical people, then a torrent of bills. My employer provides a decent insurance plan, so a lot of the expense was soaked up. But even so, I’ll be looking more carefully for stray dimes and pennies.
My ambulance bill was $1,404. The hospital charged $5,103. The radiologist who read a brain scan and filed a one-page report billed me $458. That’s almost $7,000 for an incident that ultimately was very minor. I was back to work the next day and the test results all came back normal over the next week.
Some of the detail charges were interesting. How about $189.90 in ambulance mileage? They collect $31.65 per mile, in my case, six miles. Use of the ambulance and the paramedic on board staffing, $900. Five bucks for a handful of baby aspirin. Another $90 for oxygen. And the final insult, $12 for “stretcher decontamination.” I’d been jogging, so getting my sweat off the stretcher added to our health care cost crisis.
A hundred years ago, a seizure sufferer would have been watched, then sent on his or her way once consciousness and a steady gait returned. Because of today’s miraculous technology, much more is possible. It’s great to rule out serious conditions and to identify and treat them if they are detected. But the miracles are expensive. I lost count of the number of people involved in my little corner of emergency care that day. Most carried tubes, clips, sheets, needles, drugs, machines. All had excellent training.
Someone had to pay for all of that, starting with me. I’m one of the lucky with insurance. Still, too much of the payments into the system are going to for-profit, nearly monopolized insurance conglomerates, and troops of doctors who have four-car mansions above Skyline Drive.
If you agree with the town-hall protesters that our existing system is sufficient and the Obama proposals are a threat to civilization, I offer two more examples of why Big Insurance should not be allowed to win this year’s health care battle:
“Death panels?” Froma Harrop will tell you about death panels. The columnist describes how a huge insurance company played keepaway with desperately needed coverage for potentially life-saving cancer treatment for her husband. She still wonders whether the delays by the “expense conscious” insurer actually ensured his death.
An old friend of mine from my Idaho news reporting days, Randy Stapilus, should be a textbook example for use by right-wing opponents of Obamacare. He fits the part of the independent American worker every way you could imagine. He’s big-brain smart, thoughtful, hard-working, dedicated, resourceful. He’s contributed to society non-stop for his entire adult life. He created and runs a business. He’s the ideal individual who can fend for himself and is no drain on any government program.
But, hold on. Randy found that insuring himself and his wife as a small business owner eventually became cost-prohibitive. Premiums went up, up and up. So, they had to drop their coverage. Then, a life-threatening illness pretty much turned his world on its head last year. Without insurance, he became another casualty of the fabulous health care system we have.
Please don’t tell me health care reform should not be passed this year. If people such as Randy Stapilus and Froma Harrop’s husband are thrown under the bus of Big Insurance’s profit machine, no one is safe. This cannot continue.