Bud Hill: The ER: No longer an option
September 22, 2009
Over the weeks, I have read a variety of opinions concerning health care, and I have come to the place where I wish to speak my piece. The straw on the camel’s back was Robert H. Potts’ “Health care not a right” (SDN Sept. 20). If it were necessary to roll out my credentials academically and professionally I could; but I’m not interested in 35 years of medical experience with an undergraduate degree in American history. Nor am I interested in Jeffersonian ideals set in the philosophical moralities of John Locke’s “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property.”
The point of health care is pragmatic, so let’s cut to the chase: When was the last time Dr. Potts was in an ER room as a patient rather than a physician? March 26, 2009, on the best powder day of the season, I cracked a rib. By midnight I was in lots of pain, and my son called the EMS and I was taken to St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Their care and compassion were exemplary. However, going to the ER placed me in jeopardy as it concerns the health care system. This year, after 35 years of professional involvement in the lives of others, I found myself – as so many others – unemployed. Being 66 years old, I am eligible for Social Security and a small pension, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. I thought I was smart getting Medicare Plan B as well as Plan A; but I found out differently that evening.
In the midst of my discomfort and pain, I did my best to make my wishes known. I told the attending physician I could only pay what Medicare would. Just to make sure, I said it again. During the two hours I was there, I was coached by the attending physician that “just to make sure,” he need to take a CAT scan. At first I refused, citing my lack of funds. But he persisted, and I recanted.
All seemed well until I received the bill. For that two hours in the ER (which didn’t include the $1,500 for the ambulance ride), the charges were over $10,000! If my math is correct, that’s $5,000 an hour. When I went over the bill, not only had the ER taken one CAT scan; they had taken three – just to be sure – at over $8,000. In the last 10 years, medical charges have increased over 119 percent. The justification for such includes liability insurance along with technological progress (It used to be X-ray at a couple hundred dollars; now it’s CAT scan at $3,000 a pop).
We are all in a Catch 22, the doctors, the patients and the facilities. Whether we like it or not, physicians are scared of malpractice and find themselves forced into what is being called “predatory medicine.” So “just to be sure” becomes a ruse for covering their liability. The medical facilities are caught, too. Stay up with the flow or go bankrupt. And the patients, even when Medicare pays 80 percent, the remaining 20 percent hurts more than the broken rib.
My stint in the ER is no longer an abnormality. It’s happening all the time. No one seems to know what to do; and philosophical, moral and political remedies just don’t cut it. It’s going to take sacrifice on the part of all concerned – that’s you and me, brother! I may not have a solution for America, but I have one for myself that will help others as well as me. You may not like it, but I’m serious about it: From now on, the ER and the hospital are off-limits to me as a patient. I don’t care whether I’m dying or not; it is no longer an option. For-profit hospitals no longer will be making money off me (or Medicare).
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Second, I am going to continue to contribute to Medicare Plan A and B for the benefit of other Americans who just can’t be so radical in their sacrifice. Out of this commitment I receive dignity and the assurance it will help, even if just a token amount, to the well-being of others. After all, if health care is not a right, then neither is the extended life-span medical science and governmental bureaucracy propose. What ever happened to the metaphor of the old Eskimo on the ice flow waiting for the polar bear to come. Or as the Bible says: “For everything there is a season … a time to live and a time to die.”