Medical billing still broken

Back in June I was doing a major project in the yard and rolled up half the professionally laid astroturf. It’s a major job and weighs a ton… A couple of days later I stepped on the rolled astroturf and an 8-inch turf nail went through my shoe and into my right foot. It went in pretty deep, not just a surface cut.

After cleaning up, covering the hole I realized I needed a tetanus shot. It was already 6:30pm, I called a couple of local urgent care offices and checked their prices. Both said the shot cost $40. I decided to head to the Boulder Community Urgent Care in Superior.

Having filled in my details on a tablet, I was called in and shown to a cubicle. A few minutes later a nurse/doctor practitioner came in, asked a few questions, cleaned the wound and agreed to the shot, having also explained I’d need to take a specific antibiotic that they’d supply the first dose of as my pharmacy would be closed at 7pm. We also agreed that as I was paying cash, an X-Ray wouldn’t be done, but if I had pain in a few days to comeback.

A few minutes later, I was done. I had to checkout and the front desk said that the bill was $192.40 – I was speechless. I asked for a line item/detailed statement and was told they couldn’t provide one then, but I could call the billing dept. later and get one. I paid by credit card and left with a credit card receipt.

BCH Bill for the actual tetanus shotImagine my surprise when a few weeks later when I got the bill from BCH. Yes, that’s right, the bill was for the administration of the tetanus shot. You have to be kidding?

I’d paid $192.40 and that didn’t even include the tetanus shot for $40, discounted by $6 for “cash”. I waited a couple of days and called the BCH Billing dept. I had a productive “how can this be accurate calls” and the woman I spoke with, after a few minutes, agreed to waive the $34 fee.

This though embodies everything that is wrong with the American healthcare business. You can’t get an accurate price up front; they then nickle and dime you for every small part of the process; when you checkout you get a final amount, but you can’t see how that is made up; you pay by credit card and leave, and then weeks later you receive an additional, unexpected bill. That’s if you are lucky.

Out of control drugs

For-profit hospitals appear to be better players in this price-gouging game,” says Bai, an assistant professor of accounting at Washington & Lee University. “They represent only 30 percent of hospitals in the U.S., but account for 98 percent of the 50 hospitals with highest markups.

Of the many things wrong with the US Medical system, and there are a great many, not least it is the most expensive in the world, are the prices of ancillary parts of the healthcare system.

I’ve just been catching up on my bills, one of which was a visit to a chiropracter. A single visit, with a company provided insurance, my out of pocket cost was $485. Yes, it’s complicated, it involves deductibles, co-pays etc. and of course since it’s my only healthcare visit so far this year, I got essentially nothing from insurance. You then start to question what you got for $485. 10-mins with the specialist; 15-mins electrical stimulation; and about the same ultrasound. Sigh.

I have a mild form of psoriasis which randomly appears(stress?) on my right elbow, left thumb and a couple of other areas. It’s really no big deal, I use maybe two or three small tubes of Fluocinonide per year; in a couple of days and it’s gone. I went to get a replacement tube of cream from CVS recently. It’s a prescription cream, which comes with its own problems. The pharmacist gave me the cream and announced they’d changed providers and the price was now $8. No big deal to me, I can afford it. I paid and left.

Out in the car, I stopped and thought about it. I’d just been stung with 62.5% price hike. Seriously same active ingredient, same size tube; different generic brand. And there you have it, you have no control, no choice, no free market, it’s effectively too difficult to shop around because it’s prescription only. Yet, strangely you can buy it online for pets, it’s about the same price, meaning again, my drug insurance is effectively worthless.

The problem in America is that there is no effective control for the price of drugs. This report by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report, highlights how this is commonly exploited, let alone specific deliberate abuse.

The 50 hospitals, they found, charged an average of more than 10 times the Medicare-allowed costs. They also found that the typical United States hospital charges were on average 3.4 times the Medicare-allowable cost in 2012. In other words, when the hospital incurs $100 of Medicare-allowable costs, the hospital charges $340. In one of the top 50 hospitals, that means a $1,000 charge.

Of the 50 hospitals with the highest price markups, 49 are for-profit hospitals and 46 are owned by for-profit health systems. One for-profit health system, Community Health Systems Inc., operates 25 of the 50 hospitals. Hospital Corp. of America operates more than one-quarter of them. While they are located in many states, 20 of the hospitals are in Florida.

For-profit hospitals appear to be better players in this price-gouging game,” says Bai, an assistant professor of accounting at Washington & Lee University. “They represent only 30 percent of hospitals in the U.S., but account for 98 percent of the 50 hospitals with highest markups.

We all pay the price for this abuse. It’s nonsense to think that a single payer, public healthcare system would cost anymore. If we had it, there would be drug price control. Those against price control often argue that would stifle innovation and invention of new drugs, they role out the enormous cost of bringing out new drugs and using the profit of successful drugs to underwrite research, and failures during the process.

This is simply invalid. Anyone who thinks that humans won’t become involved because they are prepared to standby and watch their fellow citizens die, is just plain wrong. While medical innovations have progressed dramatically over the previous century, the last 20 years specifically have resulted in monumental advancements that substantially increased medical care standards and improved overall global health, but most of those advances didn’t actually come from the actual drugs(*), but from a better understand about the human body, how diseases spread and much about healthcare. The real ripoff in drug use is both at source, manufacturers, and those that sell the drugs.

Lets hope the next President take drug pricing as a priority.

* Not withstanding massive public health crisis drugs, like HIV, Ebola et al. These serve as exactly as an example of the invention that will still come.