I had to make an evening visit to the hospital a few nights ago due to persistent symptoms of gaucheness. Or to put it another way, I was clumsy and hurt myself. I was making myself a salad and cutting up some green leaf lettuce with a fairly new knife. I hadn’t had a new knife set in over a decade so sharp knives are still a bit new to me. I was being a bit quick and careless and I hit my thumb. I laughed at myself after it happened and just tried to get the bleeding to stop. It hurt a little but it wasn’t the first time I’d done that (persistent symptoms of gaucheness) so I wasn’t too alarmed until my thumb didn’t stop bleeding about 20 minutes later. I called my parents to see what the time limit is on when you should call it and just go get stitches – as it turns out the time limit is 20 minutes.
Because it was after 8 P.M., I had to go to the emergency room to get my thumb looked at. I waited for 2 hours to get into the place where they do the stuff but I wasn’t in a hurry and in all honesty, I was glad I was only there for a small cut. You see some hard cases in the ER at night; there was an elderly lady who looked very beat up from what I’m guessing was a car accident, another guy got brought in and was in and out of consciousness, and a young woman in hand and ankle cuffs was being escorted out by a police officer are just a few of my examples. And there were other sad faces around the room probably hoping for good news but bracing themselves for the bad. So as long as my thumb was still going to be attached and working, I was alright. Around 10:30 P.M., they led me to the back where I sat behind a curtain and waited some more. After about 15 or 20 more minutes, a young man with a ponytail and a nice bedside manner showed up, looked at my thumb, and declared that I would probably need at least two stitches. Just. Two. Stitches.
I felt like such a dumbass for going to the E.R. only to need TWO stitches. But better safe than sorry, I figured. Plus, I had insurance so it wouldn’t be great but it wouldn’t break the bank. Another young lady came in and took all of my vitals and gave me a tetanus shot. Then an older man with financial forms came in to get a signature from me for consent for treatment or something. Then Ponytail M.D. returned, numbed my thumb, stitched it, and left. One more visit from the young lady who discharged me and I left to make a payment and head home. Well, not straight home. I stopped at the store on the way home because I was starving and it was damn near midnight. So dinner that night consisted of Oreos and Halo Top ice cream – don’t judge me. In either case, I paid $438 for the experience. Not great but hey . . . lesson learned. Be more careful with knives or invest in chainmail gloves.
Cut to two weeks later and I open some mail from the hospital. Turns out I wasn’t done paying for my stitches. I still owed $854 . . . for TWO stitches. And that doesn’t include the additional $98 that I’d need to pay to get the stitches removed. Total out-of-pocket cost for my culinary misadventure (minus Oreos, ice cream, and fuel for the drive): $1,390.85. My work-provided-supposed-to-be-better-than-marketplace insurance only covered $443 over the charges. To put it another way, it cost $1,833.61 for an over two hour wait in which I was seen by one lady in the lobby, two licensed medical professionals, one attendant, one intern, one financial consultant (which I should have seen as a sign) and where I got probably 30-45 minutes of actual facetime and of that less than 10 minutes to get the stitches both added and then removed from my person. Eyemuffs if you’re offended by cursing but I feel like this is earned: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.
And when I think about the one guy with the forms about financing and options for payment, I think about the people who had ACTUAL medical emergencies. People who had severe injuries or someone die and then this guy comes in and needs a form signed and hey, here are some options for financing your totally horrible trauma and entirely needed procedure to help you live. Oh, don’t thank us. We’re here to make sure we don’t bankrupt you all at once. I mean, you’ll still have to pay us for ever and ever and ever and ever . . .
Is that what happens when you have a child? Does a person come in after this wonderful experience and give you options for continued payments for your recently born child? Do people in other countries have this experience? Because I’m sorry, but this right here? This is bullshit. And I know that I’m far from the first person to state this let alone experience it. There are people all across this country (God Bless the U.S.A.) who will never financially recover from hospital bills and medical treatments. I’m lucky that I have some money saved up (not having kids really helps with that) so it won’t be too terrible for me but good lord have mercy. Do you know how many Americans have more than $1,000 saved up for emergencies? About 43%. So that means that 57% of Americans would have to finance the charges I incurred (and just to remind you this is all WITH insurance). A cut on the thumb, two stitches, is all it would take to eliminate the savings of 57% of Americans. And there’s no telling how long it would take to pay any of this off because if people aren’t able to put money into savings, they probably can’t afford an extra monthly payment on top of all of this.
I know some are going to want to argue personal responsibility and I get the argument so I’m not rehashing it here. My point is that it shouldn’t take TWO STITCHES to bankrupt someone. It shouldn’t cost someone all of their savings to make sure they keep the feeling in their thumb, let alone have a kid or a necessary, life-saving surgery. And we shouldn’t be alright with someone having to ruin themselves in order to survive in this country. Doesn’t really seem like it’s very Land-of-the-Free-ish, does it?
3 thoughts on “From Debt to Shining Debt: Adventures in American Healthcare”
That’s fucked up. Truly.
It is one huge mess! My mom’s insurance is horrible, she is paying $24,000 out of pocket for her ER visit. We thought she was having a heart attack, turns out it was other issues but she will be paying on it forever and since she is not making the payments the size they would like, they turned her over to collections. It is a nightmare!!
I experienced a similar situation earlier this year and yes, this is a mess. Why time and again i’ll Advocate for free healthcare.