Last December, I got shooting pains in my abdomen on a Thursday morning, was nauseous, and had blood in my stool. I am in generally good health, and although I had medical insurance, I hated my general physician, so I didn’t have anyone to contact with a question. The next day, I decided to go to Urgent Care, because I knew that whatever my issue was, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal, and Urgent Care is cheaper, both for the insurance company and for me.
I drove to Urgent Care about five hours later but had forgotten my medical insurance card. I went home, but the UC center I had just gone to was now closed for the day. I decided to wait it out.
A couple hours later, things were worse. I made a last-minute decision to drive to the only open UC center in the area, about 30 minutes away, again, because I was a bit concerned, and figured the insurance company would appreciate me going to UC instead of ER.
I went to UC and saw the only doctor there relatively quickly. She asked me some questions, did a couple of tests, ran a tube up my ass and looked into it, and told me that she couldn’t diagnose me but that my symptoms demanded I should go to the ER, which was across the street.
I went to the ER, got through the line quickly, and was immediately put in a bed, even though I really wasn’t that comfortable with it — after all, aren’t there people in way more dire straits than I, especially on a Friday night? I spent five hours in the ER, mostly just being nervous that my boyfriend was bored and irascible. About three and a half hours in, a doctor and nurse wheeled me into a room, where the doctor asked me the exact same questions the previous doctor had, despite having all of her notes, ran the same tests, and yes, again ran the exact same kind of tube up my butt. After doing all this, the doctor decided he had no idea what was wrong with me, gave me some pain medication, and told me to go home and come back to the ER if I kept bleeding.
To sum up:
1. I tried to save money by going to Urgent Care
2. UC didn’t know what was wrong, so UC sent me to the ER
3. ER ran the EXACT SAME TESTS as UC, and took three times as long to do them;
4. After all this, neither UC nor ER was able to diagnose me;
5. Two weeks later, I get bills from both UC and ER for services rendered. I’ve paid UC but still owe ER, which is still expensive, despite my insurance.
So, all in all, a few things. I tried to minimize costs, but sadly failed. I wasted seven hours of my life, and, more importantly, of these doctors’, to no avail. The total bill came to approximately $4500, although I only have to pay about $700 out of pocket ($150 to UC and $550 to ER).
-Why should the exact same procedures cost me $150 at UC and $550 at ER? (Answer: well, ER has way bigger costs, like the bed, extra admin, subsidizing those who can’t pay, etc., but my point is that I really didn’t NEED any of that, but I didn’t have a choice.)
-If I went to a restaurant and didn’t get the food I ordered, I wouldn’t have to pay. If I signed up for an LSAT class and didn’t learn anything, I’d get my money back. So why is it that, in this particular instance, I paid a lot of money to two different (but related) organizations for completely redundant NON-results? (Again, answer is that of course tests still cost money, as do doctors, and they should all be paid, but in what universe should that actually cost my insurance $4500?)
Health care pricing is seriously messed up. If $5 buys a dose of AIDS vaccine to send to Africa, it doesn’t make sense that a simple blood test bills out at $75. If I can walk around just fine, don’t make me pay to get stuck with an IV and sat in a bed, especially when there’s an uninsured kid bleeding from the head waiting in the next room. Doctors and nurses should be well-compensated, but they should be salaried, not paid on a per-service basis. Finally, we should really work on eliminating redundancies. When the UC doctor performs precise tests and sends them across the street, the ER doctor shouldn’t feel compelled to distrust her judgment and run the exact same tests over again. If something doesn’t work, try a new fucking approach! This is just common sense!
Also, on a side note, my boyfriend is deathly allergic to bees. About two years ago, he was playing kickball in Golden Gate Park and forgot an EpiPen — of course he got stung. He had to drive himself to ER to get it taken care of, and he, too, has insurance. However, the insurance refused to pay for this service, so now he’s stuck with an $1800 bill. Retail value of an EpiPen? About $25! WTF?
So, we DO need health care reform. But, for now, instead of prioritizing universal health care, maybe we should demand that the industry actually behave responsibly and efficiently. It’s just common sense.