I debated seeing a proctologist. I mean I had dealt with hemorrhoids before and survived. But that was many years ago and now, given I am closer to 60 than 50, I thought it wise to err on the side of caution.
Would you believe a $1,830 bill?
I didn’t at first. I thought maybe the light in the kitchen was bad or that my eyesight, already in decline, had deteriorated dramatically since my last exam.
But turns out my eyes were not the problem. The problem is a health-care system that seems bent on either putting the average consumer into considerable debt or shutting them out of the system entirely. It seems wrong that I should be charged nearly $2,000 to get confirmation that, yes, I have a mild case of internal hemorrhoids and should eat more high fiber food and schedule a colonoscopy.
Please understand, I am not seeking sympathy. The truth is I have what most would consider a good health-care plan through my employer — Anthem BlueCross BlueShield to be specific. Anthem, interestingly, saw fit to cover only $1,037.82 of the charge. It paid $721.63. That left me with $316.19 in deductible and coinsurance to pay.
But had I known that I would walk out of the doctor’s office with a $316 bill, I would have declined the visit and simply upped my fiber intake and called my primary care physician to set up a colonoscopy. So, to some extent, this is a shame on me situation, a matter of not taking the time to investigate the likely costs before scheduling the appointment.
On the other hand, I’m convinced that I am far from alone in encountering this medical bill-shock phenomenon. The health-care system in this nation specializes in secrecy: nobody seems to know how much they are paying for anything.
OK, maybe that statement is slightly hyperbolic. But the emphasis should be on “slightly.” I am old enough to realize exceptions exist and that if you explore a hospital’s website carefully you might find a price list for most common procedures, but in general when I walk into a hospital or a doctor’s office, I don’t see prices posted on the wall or anywhere else.
This is not true when I go into Dunkin’ Donuts. Behind the cashier, Dunkin’ has a huge board that lists the price of coffee, donuts, bagels, sandwiches, and all the other foods and beverages it sells. When I go to a sit-down restaurant, the menu lists a choice of entrees and the price charged for each. Heck, many restaurants these days even disclose what each entree will cost me in terms of calories.
I pride myself on being a frugal shopper. I clip the digital coupons from my local grocery stores and have learned which ones sell the Greek yogurts I like at the cheapest price. I also take advantage of specials, the two-for-one deals, and the 50 percent discounts. This is a market economy we live in. This is the way it is supposed to be.
People would riot in the streets if supermarkets and restaurants suddenly adopted the consumer blackout practices of the medical profession. They would storm down to Washington and demand that Trump and Congress bring an immediate end to such an outrageous move. And yet, when it comes to hemorrhoid exams or ultra-sound scans, it’s a guessing game what the price will be, and most consumers simply accept that situation.
Imagine, though, if the medical industry operated like restaurants and grocery stores. For the Memorial Day weekend, Hospital A marks down hemorrhoid exams 20 percent, while Hospital B 30 miles up the road features a month-long special on gallstones — pay to get two removed, and the rest come out at no charge.
Better yet, hospital and medical practitioners could start producing weekly flyers, listing the prices of all their services and any deals they’re offering. Three-day sale on artificial hips anyone? Instead of sections on dairy, produce, and meat, the medical flyer could have space devoted to surgeries, exams, and therapies.
But that I’m afraid is the stuff of fantasy. I need to deal with reality, a world where a pain in the butt can run you $1,830.