The Price Is Too Damn High

The rent is just too damn high.

To be more accurate, the price is too damn high – and not just rent. The price of healthcare is too high.

This is bigger than just who’s footing the bill. Mr. Smith, Blue Cross, Medicare – it doesn’t matter. This isn’t a question about taxpayer burden or government budgets. Healthcare in this country costs 27% more than that in other developed countries.

This is about an entire nation’s burden – a nation duped by its own superior healthcare.

If this is all sounding familiar, it is. A recent article from Time magazine went at (quite) length to air out a different side of the healthcare debate: the cogs driving high costs in a market gone wild.

If you’re sick of the word “healthcare,” you’re in good company. The media has been saturated with political bickering, especially before, during and after the Affordable Care Act rolled through Washington in 2010. Most likely, the squawking will continue up to and shortly after the act’s insurance initiative opens Jan. 2014.

While this will add another strain to the federal coffers, it will also ease the burden of those with patchy, limited or nonexistent insurance coverage. Steven Bill, in his article Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, shares several chilling tales of perfectly normal people with capped-out insurance payments, unaccepted insurance policies or caught without coverage when it matters most. And they discover it only takes seconds to wind up in a lifetime (or two) of debt. In sharing these tales, Bill points out that universal coverage will not change one fatal flaw: “All the prices are too damn high.”

Bitter Medicine

Pills, supplies, tools, implants… why do they cost at least 2.5 times more at your local hospital?

The nation is already swimming in debt; how will this get any better after Uncle Sam foots the bill?

Of the myriad of healthcare complexities, the mysterious chargemaster is the largest issue Bill takes up. This piece of equipment determines the price of every item in a hospital. And no, not just procedures, consultations or drugs: alcohol swabs, $77 per swipe. Surgeon’s gown, $32. Shot of cancer wonder-drug Rituxan, $13,702.

And not only do these exorbitant prices make no sense – they are different for every hospital in the country. The base cost for an xray in Minneapolis differs from one in Indianapolis. And it gets better: this cost changes based on a patient’s insurance policy, too.

Who does that? I can understand small regional discrepancies, but the variations in pricing schemes in otherwise similar hospitals is ridiculous. And no one even acknowledges these price gouges and disparities as part of the debate, as Steven Bill found out:

“[Patients] have no idea what their bills mean, and those who maintain the chargemasters couldn’t explain them if they wanted to… They are powerless buyers in a seller’s market where the only sure thing is the profit of the sellers. We should outlaw the chargemaster. Everyone involved, except a patient who gets a bill based on one (or worse, gets sued on the basis of one), shrugs off chargemasters as a fiction. So why not require that they be rewritten to reflect a process that considers actual and thoroughly transparent costs?” [emphasis added]

And once the government starts picking up the bill, we’re going to be racking up a lot more national, not personal, debt. I am all for universal healthcare, but how can we limit the fiscal death of our country while improving the social good?

The regulation of chargemasters and how hospitals bill their patients would be a great place to start. But who would have the authority? How do we wrangle the profits of largely nonprofit organizations (with 85% profit margins) under government control?

Another piece of this puzzle is the cost of drugs in this country. And don’t tell me we need exorbitantly high drug prices in order to pay for corporations’ R&D innovation; we already have standing examples of drug price regulation in Europe. The U.S. as a whole could save $94 billion a year if it paid the same prices as countries did in Europe for the same drugs. Are we going to allow corporations to exploit the American people and their quality of life simply because of their need for revenue? Or are we going to let drug prices make the Federal government go broke, once and for all?

You may not agree that universal coverage is right. You may not agree that welfare is ever, if at all, necessary. But can’t we all agree on this? That allowing a runaway healthcare market to bleed our country dry isn’t just wrong, it’s criminal?

With or without insurance, families and individuals are piled under thousands of dollars of debt overnight. We’ve got to get to the heart of the problem – fixing healthcare, so we don’t die from our own monopolized savior.

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One thought on “The Price Is Too Damn High

  1. “This is about an entire nation’s burden – a nation duped by its own superior healthcare.”–Nailed it!
    Of course, I am of the mind to take care of myself and never need a hospital, but too many people put their faiths in doctors and our medical system, and that is how the price goes through the roof.

    Great post!

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