$10,555.09 and Counting – A Health Care Adventure

Bankruptcy caused by medical expenses?  Here is a very small example of how a few hours of treatment added up to more than ten thousand dollars in medical bills.

A few weeks ago I experienced a sore belly and, for the first time ever, evidence of a little bleeding in, as the medics put it, my stool.  In less sensitive words, there was some blood in the toilet bowl.

Since this was an obvious sign of something gone wrong with the plumbing, at 2:00 p.m. I sought advice from my primary care doc.  He examined my stomach by pushing on it in several places and making me think about whacking him on the head with the book I’d been reading for the forty-five minutes I spent in a sub-zero exam room waiting for him.  No good; only a paperback.

“You must go to emergency room for a CT scan.  You may have life-threatening tear in your colon.”

After calling Karen to tell her the news, I went to the emergency room at Wake Med North, a few blocks west of my doc’s place, arriving around 3:00 p.m.

In fifteen minutes I was in a hospital bed with a saline IV.

In another fifteen minutes Karen arrived.

In another fifteen minutes an emergency room doc came by to tell us the CT scanner was not working.

“We’ll have to send you to the main Wake Med facility on New Bern in Raleigh.”

“OK,” I said, sitting up and starting to get out of bed to put on my clothes and drive to Raleigh.

“No, no.  We have to get an ambulance to take you.”

This is where I should have said get out of my way; I’m driving myself to Wake Med in Raleigh.

“You’ve been admitted and we have to transport you to the main campus.”

Campus?  I thought I was going to a hospital.

By the time the ambulance people got me to Wake Med Raleigh it was about 6:00 p.m.  Karen had followed the ambulance in her car; my car was in the garage back at Wake Med North.

About five hours later I had the CT scan.

You might well be asking why did it take so long?

The reason: Wake Med Raleigh takes in dozens of patients for whom the emergency room is their insurance and primary care doctor.  While I waited the staff took care of others who were not able to sit up and read while waiting for a CT scan.  My situation simply was not critical, so the staff properly kept me at the back of the line to take care or more desperate conditions.

About thirty minutes after the CT scan an emergency room doc came by to tell me I have diverticulitis, a condition that older people have, in which pockets formed in the colon often collect food particles.  If the food particles this trapped are in those pockets for very long, they can cause infection, which brings us back to the beginning of this saga: a sore belly.  The doc wanted me to stay overnight, but said he wouldn’t insist.

I was dressed and out of there in about ten minutes.

Just received three bills for the ten or so hours I spent in the two branches of Wake Med hospital.  The total so far: $10,555.09, of which my Medicare Advantage coverage by HUMANA will pay $957.50.  I paid or will pay about $200 in copays.

I’m fairly certain more bills will show up, not the least of which will be for the completely unnecessary ambulance ride to Wake Med Raleigh in the middle of our local rush hour traffic.

Several weeks age I posted a summary of an article by Stephen Brill in TIME magazine about the craziness involved in medical and hospital bills.

I submit that $10,555.09 (plus whatever else makes its way to my mailbox) is a crazy amount to charge for the services I received.  Services, I hastily add, that were provided by excellent, pleasant, and professional medical staff and doctors, but services for which I would have had to raid my retirement savings to pay were it not for Medicare.  No wonder medical expenses are causing bankruptcies.

By the way, I have it on reliable authority that nobody in Washington, DC, was consulted or asked to approve my treatment, even though Medicare is a federal health care program.

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Lawyer? Not me…..

I am not a lawyer.

However, I have worked among and with hundreds, yes, hundreds of lawyers and judges in my time.  I have likely heard and repeated every lawyer joke and have had a few lawyers and judges express their surprise when they find out I am not a lawyer.

I have admired and respected all but a very few of the lawyers and judges I have known and worked with, saving my personal distaste for the likes of those few who didn’t measure up to the many.  For example, I didn’t take kindly to judges who were more than slightly drunk while on the bench, or one who showed a Michigan State Policeman the pistol he always had with him when he pulled over on a Detroit freeway to intervene in a traffic stop.

I am not a lawyer, but I submit that I know enough about how lawyers work to agree with my wife’s complaint about our governor’s hiring of a lawyer to represent North Carolina in defense of the recently passed NC legislation on voter registration.  I know enough to know that it is the job of the taxpayer-funded Office of the Attorney General to represent NC in lawsuits, but this governor has decided to spend additional taxpayer money because the NC Attorney General happens to be a D and not an R, and, the governor feels, can’t or won’t vigorously represent NC in the lawsuit challenging the (excuse me) discriminatory new law.

Apparently I know more about how lawyers work than our governor does.

Here’s the story I heard years ago that illustrates the point that good lawyers can and do represent people and issues they may not personally approve of or agree with.  A proud father meets his law school son to take him to lunch.  As luck would have it, the young man had just finished a grueling law school exam and asked his father the lawyer what he thought was the correct answer to one of the exam questions.  Dad’s response; “Son, I don’t know, but I could brief either side.”

In short, I am certain the NC Attorney General can and will mount a vigorous defense, and that the taxpayers do not need to shell out a ton of money to defend a law that (pardon me) should never have seen the light of day.