My father was recently hospitalized overnight and when the first round of bills arrived, they came to about $10,000. Like most health insurance companies, his had a deal with the providers, so the bill was lowered to $2,000. Of course if he hadn’t had health insurance, he’d have been responsible for the full $10,000. As it was, he was responsible only for his share of the $2,000.
At the same time, his friend “George” suffered a severe (but fortunately treatable) injury and was airlifted to an area hospital, where he will remain for several weeks. This man has no health insurance so his cost will be roughly $10,000 a day, plus perhaps $40,000 for the airlift.
With no assets, no savings and no income, George won’t be able to pay it so the providers will end up eating the cost and passing it on to all of their other patients and health insurance companies — part of the reason for my father’s $10,000 price tag and for the high costs we all experience at hospitals.
Meanwhile, my friend “Rob” was taken seriously ill a few years back and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. He also had no health insurance but he’s got a decent job. His hospital cost reflects both the price of his own stay, but also his share of the thousands of others who don’t have the money to pay at all. Rob is now sending the hospital several hundred dollars a month — and will continue to do so for the next decade — to pay off his bill.
The end result is that the people with the best means — those with good health insurance like my father — end up with the lowest costs because not only does their insurance cover the majority of the fees, but the insurance company’s cost is lower than an individual’s to begin with. Those with no means, like George, pay nothing. Rob and the millions like him — those in the middle — end up with the highest burden.
We know that there are no easy answers, but the system is broken. Obamacare hasn’t fixed it. Private insurance hasn’t fixed it. And it’s getting worse, not better, over time.
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