Friday, February 22, 2013

Medical Bills in the USA

American Medical Bills: Out of Control

Time Magazine Explores the Issue in Depth

We can only hope never to need healthcare treatment in the USA beyond whatever our insurance we may be lucky enough to have at the time will cover. Luckily, years ago when I first encountered Celiac Disease as a result of many visits to the ER, various doctor visits, and a wide variety of medical tests and procedures, I was fortunate enough to have health insurance that picked up the majority of the cost!

After reading the new Feb-20-2013 Time Magazine cover story titled "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us", I feel more fortunate than ever!  WOW!  That very detailed (10 pages, 24000 words) article about the out-of-control health-care pricing practices in the USA made me think about how something as "simple" as diagnosing Celiac Disease, gluten-intolerance, or a food allergy could bankrupt many people.

Figuring out I had a dietary condition that manifested itself through all sorts of strange symptoms required me to undergo more tests and procedures than I care to remember.  Perhaps that is the first obvious issue: doctors had not even considered CD when contemplating my symptoms.  So, over the period of a year or more came the various GI tests, scans, cardiac monitoring, blood tests for all sorts of thing (of course, none were for gluten-antibodies), and so on.  And, I knew all that testing must be expensive, but I was lucky: my health-insurance covered most everything aside from some rather reasonable co-pays at the time.

Since then, I have become much more knowledgeable about the actual charges hospitals and practitioners assess, especially upon those that can least afford them: people without health insurance and not eligible for Medicare/Medicaid.  Those unfortunate people that can least afford the bills will be the ones to get slapped with an insanely-high rather arbitrary "list price" for every little service, supply, procedure, etc the hospital / practitioners provide, according to the "chargemaster" (the name for a hospital’s internal price list).

With this knowledge in hand, and as reinforced by this new and very good Time Magazine article on the subject, I realize that the various exams, diagnostic procedures, and "treatments" I endured while trying to simply figure out what was wrong with me (due to Celiac Disease as I now know) would cost a fortune if I had to pay per the "chargemaster" (list price) pricing!!  WOW!  Read the article and you will start to understand how close everyone in the USA is to being bankrupted by the roll of the medical dice.

For now, unless you have access to Medicare or great private Health Insurance, you are just one sickness away from bankruptcy.  Thinking about how something like Celiac Disease -- which is nothing you can "prevent" -- may ensnare you in this medical-billing financial hellhole should be enough to really make us all stand up and say: enough is enough!  But, that apparently is not going to happen until this rather obvious USA health-care "bubble" bursts completely.  So, you best eat well, exercise a lot, stay in the best shape you can, and hope that all this preventive action you undertake is not instantly rendered nearly pointless (from a financial sense at least) by something as simple as an unavoidable condition or disease not of your making.

To that end, I am adhering to a strict gluten-free diet, exercising regularly, and doing my best to avoid the USA "medical system" if at all possible.  I have tried to become as educated as possible and rather familiar with medical terminology, common conditions, and relevant symptoms too... all in hope that I can rely on my own judgement to help identify conditions and avoid unnecessary treatments, doctor visits, and so forth.  There is a wealth of freely available information to help us now (though, one has to "filter" what is out there for legitimacy, especially online), and there are all sorts of somewhat affordable home medical-tech for simple biometrics monitoring (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugar, diet tracking, etc).

I hope to never encounter the "chargemaster" hell, or any medical billing hell, as described in that Time article!  I am too young for Medicare and must contemplate the fact that I will need to somehow afford and maintain (generous) private health insurance between now and Medicare-eligibility-age, all while medical costs and medical-insurance costs are spiraling out of control in the USA.  The obvious solution is to simply have Medicare eligibility start at age zero (birth) for all, but then how dare we join the ranks of every single other developed country in the world that will not let their citizens go bankrupt over insane healthcare pricing?  So, read the Time article and decide if this "free market" is delivering anything that resembles the benefits of a "free market" and decide if you can afford to ever be without (very generous) health-insurance in the USA -- and read why "generous" means more insurance than you are likely to have.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available