Tuesday, December 6, 2011


HOLY CRAP!  The cancer surgery I underwent in late September cost $10, 849.62.  OK, I only had to pay $100, but I repeat, holy crap!  We’re not talking an extended stay here, or meds, or special post-op treatments. No private room, no ambulance, no three star meals (fishsticks and Jello were my lot). The TV was stuck on the QVC channel with the sound off, which was probably a blessing…

Not that everyone wasn’t really nice and professional. I had two (2) anesthesiologists, though I don’t know why, and the only thing one did was basically let me know the hospital would not be responsible if his colleague accidentally knocked my teeth out, a statement I found neither reassuring nor endearing. I don’t have a breakdown of the bill, so I don’t know if anesthesiologist number one charged me for his warning. I hope not.  But the fact remains that I was in the hospital for approximately seven hours, and five of these was waiting for the operating room to be free of a person with far greater problems than mine. My surgery actually took about an hour, and I spent another two hours being monitored in the recovery area by a bevy of nurses whom I am pretty sure are on fixed salary.

So how did we get to such a princely sum? Did someone sneak in a Department of Defense hammer ($1200) or a Pentagon toilet seat ($4325)? A Congressional junket to Malaysia?

According to one recent report, Americans spend approximately twice as much as residents of other developed countries on health care and one trained medical billing advocate says that over 90 percent of the medical bills that she has audited contain "gross overcharges". A report published in The American Journal of Medicine states that medical bills are a major factor in more than 60 percent of the personal bankruptcies in the United States, and of those bankruptcies that were caused by medical bills, approximately 75 percent of them involved individuals that actually did have health insurance. One study found that approximately 41 percent of working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.

Meanwhile, profits at U.S. health insurance companies increased by 56 percent during 2009, and according to a report by Health Care for America Now, America's five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.

Here are a few more disconcerting facts…
  • Since 2003, health insurance companies have shelled out more than $42 million in state-level campaign contributions.
  • Between 2000 and 2006, wages in the United States increased by 3.8%, but health care premiums increased by 87%.
  • There were more than two dozen pharmaceutical companies that made over a billion dollars in profits in 2008.
  • The chairman of Aetna, the third largest health insurance company in the United States, brought in a staggering $68.7 million during 2010. Ron Williams exercised stock options that were worth approximately $50.3 million and he raked in an additional $18.4 million in wages and other forms of compensation. The funny thing is that he left the company and didn't even work the whole year.
  • The top executives at the five largest for-profit health insurance companies in the United States combined to receive nearly $200 million in total compensation in 2009.

I suppose that in light of such figures, $10, 849.62 is a piddling sum and I suppose I should be grateful. According to one doctor interviewed by Fox News, "a gunshot wound to the head, chest or abdomen" will cost $13,000 at his hospital from the moment the victim comes in the door. Get shot in the head and get shot in the wallet. There’s a crime being committed here, but I’m not sure what it is….

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