Geoff Pietsch: Health care sticker shock is a uniquely American disorder


Published: Monday, March 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.

Two months ago my wife went to the emergency room at North Florida Regional Medical Center with severe stomach pains.

We were there roughly three hours. She had several lab tests and an ultrasound exam, all of which were completed and evaluated while we were there.

She was cleared to go home and given a referral to another doctor.

We were completely happy with the treatment she received. But the statement of charges that we later received shocked us. The grand total: $5,691.40.

To understand our shock better, consider what it cost for another medical emergency she had.

In Nov., 2006, we were visiting her Army son, stationed in Germany, when my wife broke her ankle. She was taken by ambulance to a local German hospital, checked out in their emergency room.

There was no line, no wait. (They don't have 15 percent of their population uninsured and using emergency rooms for what should be ordinary doctors visits.) That same afternoon she had surgery to repair the broken ankle, which was very skillfully done according to the doctor we later saw back here in Gainesville.

She spent nine days in the hospital recovering (the Germans are very cautious). And she was charged $5,753. Less than 1 percent more than what three hours cost at North Florida Regional.

This is not about our costs. My wife is on Medicare now. It paid all but $54.58 of the charges. In 2006 she had Blue Cross which paid her bill. (I suspect Blue Cross was delighted that her broken ankle occurred in Germany rather than in the U.S.)

This is also not a complaint aimed at North Florida Regional. The fact that Medicare approved virtually their entire bill suggests they are fully in line with what other hospitals charge.

This is about the insanity of the costs of the American medical system. Medicare is a huge blessing for us older folks. While one rarely looks forward to birthdays in one's "golden years," one's 65th is a definite exception. Safe at last!

But Medicare can't survive if it pays such insane charges. And the same is true, of course, for the medical insurance coverage that younger Americans are paying for, either directly or through their employer (who could pay them more if he didn't have such high premiums to pay).

Isn't it about time that the Congress pay attention to what all the other major industrial nations, like Germany, do when it comes to health care? Indisputably, the quality of their overall health care is at least as good as ours in the U.S. Yet their costs are far, far less.

Why don't we study them, and emulate them? Socialism? Who cares what "ism" you call it if it works.

Every poll I've ever seen shows the citizens of these other nations find some faults with their own health care systems but would never exchange theirs for ours. We Americans need to set aside our pride and our ideology and look at what works.

Before the American medical system, as it now functions, bankrupts us.

Geoff Pietsch lives in Gainesville.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top