Sunday, February 20, 2011

Paying the Price for Health Care

A few weeks ago, my son Akili fell off his bike and broke his ankle. I didn’t find out about it until the next day, after he went to Urgent Care. He broke his ankle on a Wed. night. Although he was experiencing blinding pain, he made his biking friends promise not to call an ambulance and not to take him to the emergency room. He instructed them to take him home, which they did. He blacked out en route. At home, he took some prescription painkillers he had leftover from when he had his wisdom teeth removed. The painkillers worked well enough for him to get some sleep. As soon as Urgent Care opened in the morning, he was there. The painkillers were only marginally numbing the pain by then. What is wrong with this picture?

My son should have gone immediately to the emergency room. He didn’t because he feared the cost. A visit to Urgent Care is less expensive than a visit to the emergency room. The cost of an ambulance ride is the equivalent of putting a down payment on a car. Akili has private health insurance to help with these costs, but it does not cover everything and he was correct in thinking that an ambulance ride would cost a small fortune. The emergency room would have been within reach, but he didn’t know that for sure at the time. Fortunately, things worked out fine for him. The break was a common type of break and was successfully repaired by an excellent orthopedic surgeon. Akili is now on the mend, although out of commission for a bit. But it makes me furious that my son endured the pain he suffered immediately after the accident because of the obscene price tag on health care services.

It is ironic that Obama’s Health Care Reform legislation is perceived as a new paradigm in health services delivery when instead it is simply a feeble attempt at health insurance reform. It has done nothing to reduce the cost of health services. I am all for keeping the greedy health insurance industry in check. And I am all for reducing the cost of health insurance coverage. I think that the reaction of health insurance companies to the legislation is proof positive that it’s a move that will benefit us consumers in the long run. But in the short term, the legislation seems to have sufficiently angered the health insurance companies for them to raise their rates astronomically and blame it on Health Care Reform (who believes this hogwash?) in order to turn people against the legislation. When I called Blue Shield to complain about the rate hikes, the person I spoke to told me that he had been instructed to tell callers that the rates went up because of Health Care Reform! Corporate bullies. All of it makes me sick, but I can’t afford to see a doctor until I pay off Akili’s medical bills.

We need a new paradigm that ensures that health care professionals are well-paid while at the same time making medical care affordable to regular folks. Everyone should be able to call an ambulance or go to the emergency room without fearing they are selling their soul to the devil to pay for the services they need. If socialized medicine will do the trick, then I invite you to convince me that something is wrong with it.

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