$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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