Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It’s French for “#$@#%&!”

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much the past few months. In August, I suffered a terrible pain in my right arm. One night, the pain became so intense that I went to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with tendonitis in my forearm and bursitis in my elbow. On my way out, the ER doctor told the nurse to give me a sling. What she handed me was little more than a nylon strap, which I naïvely assumed to be a “Made in Taiwan” freebie. It was so useless, I stopped at the drugstore on the way home and bought an $8 elastic bandage and tossed the nylon sling in the trash.

Skip ahead past three months of thrice weekly physical therapy treatments to today, when I opened my mail and found a bill from BioMet, a company I had never heard of. The bill, the first I had received from them, stated it was a “Final Notice” and “failure to respond may result in your account being forwarded to our outside agency for collection”. So, to recap, someone I’d never heard of or conducted business with was threatening to tank my credit rating. The service date was in August and the description read “ambulite velpeau immobilizer – $51.14”. It sounded as if I had done a “dine and dash” at a French restaurant and now they had caught up with me.

Apparently, my insurance covered $40.09, so the strangers from BioMet were threatening my credit rating over the remaining balance of $11.05. I called the phone number on the statement and learned, as you’ve probably deduced by now, an “ambulite velpeau immobilizer” is not French but rather med-speak for tacky nylon sling. When I told the BioMet representative the final notice I had received was actually also the first notice I had received from them, she explained “that’s been happening a lot of people; we had a computer error”. Perhaps (but probably not), in an effort to make me feel better, she said her computer showed I only owed a balance of $10.23, not $11.05. This presented a major quandary: do I mail them the amount she says is due, or what the bill says is due? If I send $10.23 in response to their “final notice”, then they might claim I still owe them 82 cents. If they’re threatening to turn my account over to collection for $11, why wouldn’t they do the same for 82 cents?

And here, in a nutshell, is the problem with the American healthcare system. Why am I being billed by a third-party private company for a product supplied to me by the hospital? Why are they charging $51 for a $1 strip of nylon? Why is my insurance paying $40 for a $1 strip of nylon? Considering my ER trip cost close to $1000, shouldn’t the so-called sling be included? Even McDonald’s gives free toys with its $5 Happy Meals. Why does the invoice obfuscate what I’m being billed for by calling a simple sling an “ambulite velpeau immobilizer”? If we examine other medical invoices, I’m willing to bet we’d find almost every line item charge was an expensive obfuscation, because when stated in plain English patients might question the outrageously overpriced charges. We not only pay for this out-of-pocket, as I’m doing now, but also through higher insurance premiums because the insurance companies and Medicare have to pay these ridiculous prices. The healthcare crisis in this country is not about Obamacare; it’s about how we’re being ripped off and extorted by healthcare providers and insurers. Obamacare is merely an example of how lobbyists for these industries have bought off the people we’ve elected to government. We need a healthcare system that cuts out insurers as middlemen (a single-payer system) and holds providers accountable for their charges for products and services.

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