Parenting Blog

The High Cost of A Cherry Popsicle (or The Lack of Healthcare Cost Transparency)

I feared the worst. I tend to do exactly that when it comes to unnecessary procedures and for this pain adverse dad, ear piercing has always seemed one of life’s more ridiculous rituals. Why do people voluntarily hole-punch their bodies? At least with paper you get those fun little circles to use as confetti or fake snow or filler for your vacuum cleaner bag. With skin, you get some blood, unnecessary metal in your ear, and possibly a nasty infection. The Bear got the trifecta of those options, with the final horse crossing the finish line on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Our nearly ten-year-old girl’s earlobe had ballooned to about 5x its original size and became the color of the cranberries that would be served later. It pretty much had everyone freaked out – the ear, not the sauce. That ear, despite how gnarly it looked, was not technically ER worthy, but at the instruction of the on-call physician and because we weren’t near home (and even if we were, our family doctor’s office was closed for the holiday,) my wife took our oldest daughter to the ER of the closest hospital near my parent’s house, where my family traditionally gathers to gorge ourselves and give thanks…for the invention of Tums.

After two hours in the ER, 85% of which was spent alone together with no consultation or appearances of hospital staff, one 3-minute doctor visit, a cherry Popsicle, and a single antibiotic pill, they were released with the information that her ear was indeed infected. No shit. There was no statement of cost, no co-pay, no mention of fees, no due dates, no consumer choices. Nothing. Just a pill, a popsicle and 2 hours of their lives they’ll never get back.

Healthcare cost and the lack of transparency_The Bear and her infected ear in the ER room

Yesterday, January 6, a bill arrived from the hospital. $451.14. Not itemized one bit. Due immediately. And with the caveat that “The above balance may not reflect the entire balance due from all accounts with St. Mary Medical Center. The professional services of physicians in the departments of…Emergency…are billed separately from the hospital bill.”  So I should expect something else? Another mysterious charge for the 3-minutes of an ER physician’s time? Fantastic. So what exactly does this $451.14 cover then? The Popsicle? That’s one expensive freezer treat. Or is that billed individually too? You know, since nothing is spelled out on the invoice.

$451.14 is the cost of a roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to Seattle in the summer, plus an overpriced bottle of water and a snack in the airport. The cost of a mini 16GB iPad, plus tax and a case. The cost of a month’s worth of groceries for a family of four, plus a few impulsive pieces of candy at checkout. The cost of a great plumber to spend two hours replacing parts and fixing a year’s worth of toilet, faucet, and water softener issues. And apparently, the cost of 2 hours in an ER room, 3 minutes of one doctor’s time, and a single pill. Oh yeah, and the popsicle. The physical difference between those five $451 goods & services is startling, of course, but what’s more ridiculous than putting a pair of holes through your skin is that for all but the hospital bill, you are able to know exactly what your financial responsibility will be when the bill comes due. Nowhere else in the spectrum of consumerism does it work like it does in the medical field. Even a car mechanic, one of the world’s most stereotypically shady professions, can quote you an hourly rate for their services, allowing you to shop around to find the blend of value and quality that fits your needs. Not so with in the wacky world of healthcare and I believe that it is 100% wrong for any business, and let’s not pretend that healthcare is something more than a business to consumer relationship, to function in such a way.

I don’t believe my daughter received anywhere near $451.14 worth of service at St. Mary Medical Center on Thanksgiving and as such I will not be paying that full amount that was never once disclosed at any point during her two hour visit to the ER. I’m going to make a counteroffer, because this is a business transaction afterall, in an attempt to draw a line in the sand. Consequences be dammed.

ER visit invoice_Jeff Bogle_OWTK

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