American Health Care-How Long Can You Afford $50 a Minute?

I just got out of the hospital ER, and, while I’m pretty sure I’m going to live, my wallet is terminal, and there’s still some steam coming from my ass after they breeched me like a cheap shotgun. 

My biggest mistake was that I was fool enough to listen to my family doctor’s nurse/receptionist.  Yes, that’s who we mere patients are allowed to talk to these days, because doctors are too busy to provide actual medical care to a lowly patient, especially one whose only symptoms seemed to point to something as trivial as a stroke.  If I had the opportunity to consult with a (gasp) real live doctor, he could have probably told me to wait and see him in the morning.  But that would have been way too easy, and way too cheap.

So away to the ER I went.  I was smart enough to ask my girlfriend to take me, saving me the ridiculous spectacle, not to mention expense, of activating the entire emergency response crew for Brevard County, which would have included an ambulance, a 40 foot fire truck, and a police escort, each of them sucking up giant pools of gasoline and cash as they hurried me to my destination.  The typical charge for your cab ride to the hospital is $500.  No thanks.

When I got to the check-in desk at Wuesthoff Hospital, I was lucky, since it didn’t look like the station platform for the #5 train to Guadalajara, Mexico, like it usually does.  They rushed me straight to the exam room, where I surrendered my wallet, shirt, and dignity while the nurses hooked me up to more fluid and electrodes than Frankenstein’s Monster.  A doctor came in and asked me a few questions.  I’d estimate he spent 5 minutes in the room before leaving without rendering an opinion, so I’m still not sure at this point if I’m going to die.

After a short wait, I am given a chest X Ray and wheeled to a different room for a CAT SCAN.  I enjoy the serene ambience of that room while listening to the soothing chat of the orderlies griping about the unfairness of their work schedules.

Then I’m back to the original exam room, where after only about 2 hours I’m telling a virtual neurosurgeon in Houston about my symptoms.  I feel very relieved that I’m not talking to a snake charmer in India, but can anybody really examine me thoroughly from 1000 miles away viewing me through a TV?  After about 5 minutes of questions, he admits he can’t, but says there’s a “95 percent probability” that I have not had a stroke, since I’m still alive and all.

I’m relieved to hear that until the real doctor tells me they’ll want to keep me overnight for “observation” and to run some more tests, including an MRI.  It’s hard to resist that offer, since I’ll be able to enjoy some instant mashed potatoes and room temperature peas for dinner, not to mention I’ll have the chance to catch up on all those evening sitcoms I’ve been missing, but still I can see my girlfriend is crestfallen, and we say goodbye to each other as if I’m going off to the Western Front and I won’t be returning home until the ground thaws next spring, if at all.

So I’m sitting alone in my cubicle playing with the reclining bed buttons and staring at the blank TV monitor, when it eerily and inexplicably glows into life, and a man named Doctor Allen asks me how I’m feeling.  I tell him I’m enjoying my sporty new wardrobe, since my sleeveless hospital gown is, I believe, reversible, allowing it to be used as either a picnic tablecloth or, perhaps, as a bowling tunic.  He doesn’t think I’m funny, or even possibly human, and examines me from his Secret Doctor Cave on the other side of the camera with the same degree of compassion and warmth as is usually reserved for a Gaboon Viper in the Reptile Exhibit.

I answer his questions, which seem to be, curiously, the same as those asked by the Houston doc, when he asks if I had any pain as a result of my fall.  Now, I didn’t fall, so I’m a little concerned about the accuracy of the diagnosis I might be provided by the Doc in a Box Program, seeing as how this physician has the wrong virtual chart for the wrong real patient.

The nurse is somewhat embarrassed about the snafu, but I assure her that similar foul ups are normal during Guatemalan Border Checks or at the VA, so why would I expect a modern US hospital to do any better, especially on a cut rate budget of only $50 per minute?

Then I am visited by Dr. Kevorkian-I mean, the Finance Coordinator, who tells me that I have already run up a tab of US $5000 for my two hours of fun, and how much of my deductible would I like to pay right now?  I tell her that I normally would be happy to pull that money right out of my ass, Papillon style, but I didn’t win the lottery as planned this week, and by the way, wasn’t my insurance good for anything?

She laughs at the notion of Blue Cross/Blue Shield (Company slogan: “Souls are for losers”) actually paying a claim before the patient was legally bankrupt, but tells me if I spend the night as planned, it would “only” cost me $1500 more before I hit my annual max out-of-pocket.  Wow!  Who knew that would be so easy?

I tell her that’s very enticing, but rather than double down and go for the gusto of living large in the ER, I’d rather just cut my losses and leave, especially since my virtual doc already said I was probably OK.  She tells me that would be a mistake and she’d have to tell the medical staff I was leaving (horror music soundtrack-doom, doom, doom…DOOOOM!) AMA, or, “Against Medical Advice”.

When I ask her if I’m in prison, she says no, I can go, as long as I sign some forms and promise to pay, so soon I’m in the Waiting Room again, happily ripping the tape off of my body (and taking much of my hair with it), and pondering the vicissitudes of the American health care, system which, as far as I can see from my parking lot vantage point, is VERY good for some people, based on the plethora of late model BMWs and Mercedes basking in the Florida sun there.

But who am I to begrudge a doctor his nice wheels, even when I know he only had to work about 8 hours at hospital rates to pay cash for them? And of course what kind of care would I get without the fine men and women at the top of the insurance company or hospital if they were forced to use commercial aviation or had to give up that vacation place in Monte Carlo?  And God knows when I have a doctor cutting into me I want him to have a laser focus on any potential lawsuit rather than my brain tumor.

So the system works pretty darn well.  The doctors get rich, the insurance company execs cash bonus checks, the hospital higher-ups make a fortune, the drug companies print money, and the attorneys?  Well, they add a lot of value for the millions they make, don’t they?

And what do we get for all this money?  The best health care in the world?  Yeah, I got the best doctor on TV you can find outside of a Soap Opera, and I got a whole lot of expensive tests.  I got my blood pressure checked, and I even got some cute nurses to look after me.  There were all kinds of tubes and gadgets attached to me, and I don’t have any doubt that if something had gone wrong I was in good hands.  But.

But, the problem is, most of us can’t afford this anymore.  We have a working class in this country that has seen its wages decline by 50% in real terms in a deliberate policy of strangulation.  We have escalating prices for everything, and every year most people outside of government have to pay for more and more of their own health care because their insurance deductibles seem to have no ceiling.  The private sector is hemorrhaging jobs faster than Obama can dream up public ones and we have illegal aliens clogging our hospitals and they get their care for free, while I have to pony up five grand just for them to tell me I’m OK.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of countries where the people live longer than we do, the babies are healthier, the exact same drugs cost far less, and the health care cost? Free.

So, is American health care good?  You bet!  Can we afford it?  Absolutely not.  The wheels are coming off as we speak, and no one is even taking real reform seriously.  And guess what?  No one will.  All the insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, and lawyers in America against the health care consumer, the patient.  Who do you think will keep on winning?

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14 Responses to American Health Care-How Long Can You Afford $50 a Minute?

  1. ccyager says:

    Wow, Jon. First of all, let me just say, well written! I plan to share at Twitter and FB also. It’s different to hear someone’s horror story described in such detail. The finance person bugging you in your room — the MN AG came down hard on the company that does that. Several hospitals here had hired them for financial oversight and advice, etc. Their employees approached people in the ER and would give the impression that they wouldn’t be treated unless they paid. The hospitals claimed they didn’t know that’s what was happening and were, apparently, “mortified.” Ha.

    I have several chronic illnesses, Jon, the worst being Crohn’s disease, so I deal with doctors, insurance, hospitals, etc. all the time. I am my own case manager. As I read your account, I could see myself in your situation — actually I was in Feb. — and how I would have dealt with each event. First of all, if you were having symptoms of a stroke — you don’t describe your symptoms — then calling your doctor is not the right thing to do anyway. The right thing to do is get your ass to the ER. Fast. In my case, if I have severe abdominal pain, I’m to call 911 because it could be a ruptured intestine (my nightmare).

    Second, you could have asked the ER doctor anything, even “are you coming back?”
    You have the right as a patient to be told everything — what procedures they plan to do and why, what the results of testing are, what the doctor’s thoughts are. Learn from this experience. You need to protect yourself and your interests. Third, bravo that you got out of bed and checked yourself out. That’s your right, too, even if everyone was saying it wasn’t advisable. You could always go someplace different for help — if you have another choice. I live in a large metro area with many hospitals. I have a choice and I use it. You have the right also to refuse procedures such as a CT Scan (very expensive) if there’s a cheaper way to find out the same thing. You can ask.

    You can also ask for a doctor to talk to you in person. I’m shocked by the use of virtual doctors in your experience. I would have wanted to know why? You’ve learned the hard way that if you are passive, the doctors will just go ahead and do whatever. You need to know precisely what’s wrong with you, what the treatment is, and what procedures are essential. I can’t tell you how many times I refused a CT scan this year.

    In Feb., I was taking a shower one Tuesday morning and started to feel nauseous. Not unusual for me, it could be stuck gas. But it didn’t go away, and I found myself kneeling at the bathroom throne. I was violently ill, and then when I tried to get up, violently dizzy. The nausea and dizziness continued for over an hour before I decided to crawl to the phone and call 911. The EMTs got me on my feet but my spatial sense was so bad I kept walking to my left and my balance was way off. They took me to the ER — and since they’d already gotten a history and all the necessary background questions out of the way, a doctor could see me pretty quickly. I was also trembling violently and had been since being ill. The doctor asked me a whole range of questions covering cardiac, neurology, gastro and other areas. I didn’t realize until later that they thought I was having either a cardiac or neurological event. I asked questions of both the nurses and doctors. They were open with me. I knew every step of the way what was going on. The ER doc told me what he thought, too, and he was sharp — he’d figured out that the dizziness was an inner ear problem and unrelated to the stomach issue. They kept me overnight for observation, hooked up to a heart monitor, checking my blood pressure to make sure the dizziness wasn’t that, and checking my GI status. I went home the next day. I thought the hospitalists (doctors working for the hospital and generally internists) got the GI issue wrong — I had obstruction symptoms — but the ER doc got the inner ear thing right.

    Would I do it again? I have. At the end of March, my GI system wouldn’t allow me to eat anything. I waited almost 48 hours then called 911. This time, it was pancreatitis and I had to have my gall bladder removed so the gall stones wouldn’t cause it again.
    So, you never know. Take this experience as a learning experience so you’ll be ready next time. By the way, here the ER will see a patient immediately that comes in by ambulance, but unless you have symptoms of heart or brain issues, you’ll wait in the waiting area if you come in on your own. A tip.

    May there not be a next time, Jon!

  2. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    First, i am sorry you’ve had so many health issues. I hope that you will find at least some comfort with your issues, if not a cure.

    I did have stroke symptoms. What I didn’t explain in my story was, if it HAD been a stroke, by the time they told me I would be kept for observation, there would have been no doubt at all about it. So the doctor and hospital were just trying to CYA at my expense.

    Feel free to share…

    • ccyager says:

      Jon, I hope you’re OK! And I hope you have a good primary physician who can make certain that you don’t suffer those symptoms again. All the best!

  3. Jonathan says:

    Thanks! I DO have a pcp, but it seems she doesn’t have the time to talk to me.

  4. Lisa says:

    Hope you don’t experience the stroke symptoms again. I’ve been very fortunate with doctors so far, keeping my fingers crossed.

  5. Gordon Kilgallon says:

    The symptoms of stroke can be very severe that it can cause death instantly. ‘

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  6. Jonathan says:

    Thanks Gordon! Good information…

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  9. aaron says:

    I agree 100%. I started getting to where my whole body would just start shaking all over, shortness of breath. Felt like I was dying. Never had anything like it before. So I had my brother drive me to the ER where I was treated like drug addict criminal. What happen to compassion, caring about another human being? Instead its a snatch and grab for your money and no help. This was at wuesthoff .

  10. Jonathan says:

    While my experience was at Weusthoff also, I don’t think that they are any better or worse than the norm. It’s the entire system that is broken. The patient has not been the primary focus of US health care for a very long time.

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