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Apr 9, 201401:19 PMOpen for Business

with Jody Glynn Patrick

Shocking medical costs an eye-opener for this patient

(page 1 of 2)

This week I accompanied my Uncle Gene, 82, for his lab tests. He’d been feeling dizzy, and his doc suggested he wait three months to see if the symptoms disappeared of their own accord. The dizzy spells increased. The doctor prescribed a medication and changed the dosage of another medicine, but the spells continually worsened. In addition, he now has unpredictable stabbing pains in his head that stop him mid-step for a few minutes, until they disappear as mysteriously as they attack.

Uncle’s doctor ordered blood work, an EKG, a CT scan, an echocardiogram, and a check of his arterial blood flow to his head, given that he’d had a bad fall and injured his neck area shortly before the spells began. He was also fitted with a heart monitor that he was instructed to wear for 24 hours.

When we entered the central Illinois hospital registration area to check in, it was impossible to miss the large, predominantly placed sign that posted generic hospital prices. My uncle looked at his list of ordered tests and whistled. “I couldn’t afford any of these on my own,” he said, adding he felt guilty about using so many resources, even though he has insurance due to 20 years of military service. He worried about what his final cost would be, since he has a small fixed income.

In reality, most of us — if we lost our insurance coverage tomorrow — would be one catastrophic accident or illness away from dire trouble. What can we do? A significant antidote for rising medical costs, hospital administrators tell us, is for John and Jane Doe to fully understand the cost of their care. “Informed consumers” would make better use of resources, we’re told.

Okay, my uncle now fully comprehends the cost of his lab work. Is he now to choose which test is most important and refuse the rest as optional or frivolous? Does he have the judgment to know which one could discern an answer that might prevent him from hitting his head if he falls during a dizzy spell? What exactly is he supposed to do with that information? Hospital shopping might work in Madison, but his next option is about 50 miles away from his doctor and, in that larger city, costs are even higher.


Apr 11, 2014 06:26 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Health care costs in this country are significantly out of control. I feel for your uncle - you work so hard to save a little and get ahead, and all of that can be wiped out by a handful of tests the insurance company decides not to cover. You make an excellent point - how can the average person chose what procedures are most needed? We don't have medical training. The Affordable Care Act helps a bit by getting insurance to people who need it, but the underlying problem of overwhelming costs for healthcare remains unsolved. Sadly, that means those with the resources - the best insurance, the best income to cover additional costs - will be the ones to get quality health care. Those caught in the middle will put off getting health care and many will needlessly die. We have a very cruel system.

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