20 August 2008

Hospital Bills

For some years now, since my experiences living in England, I have been talking a whole lot of trash on American hospitals and the entire health care system. And, while I continue to think that our health care system is bunk, that hard-working people with bad luck are getting screwed by the charlatans that run the insurance companies (see "Sicko", by Michael Moore), and that Universal Health Care should be a priority in American politics, I take most of what I've said about hospitals over these years back.

Why the sea change? Why this sudden turnaround, this admission of wrongness, this swallowing of pride?

Allow me to tell you my story:

First, if you read this post, you'll remember that I had an accident some months ago at a friend's house. To make a long story short, I leaned against a railing on the porch, the railing broke, and I fell down a few feet, rolled down a hill, and crashed into a car (leaving a butt-shaped imprint in the door).

I visited the local clinic (a cheap option), and while the X-rays they took did not reveal a broken rib, the pain I felt was so intense that they sent me for a scan at Mission Hospitals, fearing that I may have ruptured my spleen. And so, I visited the hospital, got scanned and poked and prodded, all to find out that what I had was an extremely painful, wholly untreatable bruised rib.

The pain continued for some time. It was at least six weeks before I could again sleep on my left side. The first few weeks were filled with groans and sometimes screams whenever I would move or accidentally touch the most painful sections of my rib cage. I ate pain pills by the handful and, though I had expected to at least have the perk of a legal high, hated feeling so dumb and groggy all the time.

The bills were, of course, very high. The emergency room visit alone was something like 4000 dollars. The radiology people wanted to charge somewhere in the ballpark of 600 dollars. The physician's group bill was the lowest -- around 200 or so.

Against all my best intentions and personal philosophies, I began to think of getting litigious. My friend rented her house, and so I reckoned that the fault lay with the landlord, the inconsiderate, lazy, no-good bastard that had only secured the railing with one stinking nail. The piece of junk that claimed that the railing was "decorative", as if railings made of 2 x 4 lumber, horizontal and vertical rails, and separating porch-enjoyers from a three foot drop followed by a hill were normally decorative. I called the man, leaving messages about my plight, telling him that I wished him no harm, did not wish to sue him, did not wish to milk him or rob him. I merely wanted him to pay my hospital bills, which I reckoned his homeowner's insurance might cover anyway.

He, of course, did not call back, but rather ignored my calls. I grew angry and began searching for lawyers. And then I left the country for Europe.

I only returned from Europe a week or so ago, and looked with dread upon the hospital bills piling up on my kitchen table. I opened them, saw the amounts, and failed to sleep that night, tossing and turning and sweating as I thought of the financial burden those bills represented to me. If a lawsuit yielded no gain for me, I was to be royally screwed.

And then, a miracle! Mission Hospitals and the Radiology people have completed liberated me, dropping my bill down to ZERO. Turns out that I provided them without enough proof of my lack of income (which is true) that they awarded me 100% Charity Care.

I am amazed, stunned, and excited beyond belief. I have regained some faith in hospitals and the people that run them. I am once again able to look with some amount of pride and thankfulness upon our health care institutions. Now, as I said above, I certainly don't think that this one example is going to change forever how I think of hospitals. Were, for instance, it the case that I made enough money to not get help from the hospital charities, these hospital bills would still presumably have presented a huge financial burden and a great annoyance to my wallet. Nonetheless, I shall not look a gift-horse in the mouth, and I will be sure to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

Or something like that. If that particular biblical quote and the preceding cliche don't quite work for you, pick another that does. Point is -- I owe a great debt (figuratively) to Mission Hospitals, and I will not forget it.


  1. I'm so glad things turned out well with this!

  2. In the same manner, Helen's income (before we were married) was so low that the local group Project Access provided her with doctors and healthcare professionals who donated their time to help the community for free or very cheaply (but in the same facilities that they charge quite a bit), and while i think the length of time she did this was limited to two years, it helped her immensely and gave me the same paused respect when i speak of physicians, especially in the Asheville area.

    Of course to my dear sweet Helen's benefit she brought them garden vegetables and art gifts and friendships that gave back to them a sense of accomplishment and good-samaritanism.