Sunday, September 13, 2009

The high cost of being sick

In the middle of all this hoohaw about health care and the debate about coverage and the yelling and lies and insinuations and "death panels" and "patriots" toting guns outside of the President's speeches, the talking heads are ignoring the little picture. On June 30th my mom went to the hospital with chest pains, was mistakenly medicated with inappropriate drugs that made her crazy, stayed in that one hospital for 13 days, went to a nursing home for a night, then to another hospital for another 9 days, then 4 days in assisted living, went back to hospital #1 due to a fall (caused in no small part by the medications), then spent 20 days at yet another hospital. Now the bills are appearing.

In the first hospital the room was $5,750 each day. The room ONLY. A baby aspirin, 81mg tab, was $18.94. Yes, $18.94 for a baby aspirin. Acetaminophen 325 mg, a very basic generic tylenol drug, cost $21.91 per tablet. In all, oral medications for the first hospital stay (including the ones that caused this whole problem) were over ten thousand dollars. That's not even including the injected drugs or the inhaled drugs which totaled more than another six thousand dollars.

This first hospital stay cost $140,700. That's not including the doctors: the hospitalists, the cardiologist, the psychiatrist, the therapists, the whothehellknowsists. They charge separately. If that isn't bad enough, there are two more hospitals which have yet to send an invoice or statement.

My mom has very good insurance, but even so this could cost her tens of thousands of dollars. What about someone who has no insurance? What about the poor schmuck who gets this statement from the hospital and owes every single cent? There are states where you can buy a lovely house for less than this episode.

It all makes me so angry I could scream. My mom is feeling better now, slowly rehabilitating her body and trying to stabilize with her new level of cognition. She's living in an assisted living facility geared toward dementia residents. There are people screaming all the time, people who walk in her room and get in her face, people who, frankly, scare the crap out of her by following her around and making weird noises. And this is one of the very GOOD dementia facilities. With some stability she may be able to go to a facility less geared toward dementia but she'll always need 24 hour care.

My mom is an elderly lady who had chest pains, got incredible full medical care (although she shouldn't have needed it if they hadn't made a mistake) and it could cost her every single cent she had saved despite the fact that she's insured. This isn't right, it isn't fair, and shouldn't happen in our wonderful country. Health care debate? To me there is no debate. We need affordable care with reasonable costs. We need politicians who don't accept money from the insurance industry or the drug industry or the hospital industry and then make decisions based upon that money. We need truth and honesty and civil discussion. We need change and we need it now.

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