A Question of Mending (both body and health care system)


I broke my elbow at the end of January. The crack in my bone healed unencumbered except for a sling I wore occasionally upon the advice of my orthopedic doctor as he explained grinning, “People open doors for you and things like that.”

I seem to remember on past visits to the emergency room our local hospital allowed us to pay a flat fee up front with nothing to turn in to insurance coverage. Not mentioned this time, I wonder if this is no longer an option or if, when our insurance coverage appeared in their system, it was conveniently not offered.

The bill for the emergency room allowed me to access just what our $100 co-pay bought. A large part of the fee is for use of a curtained cubicle which was well equipped for extensive electrical possibilities, though I didn’t use most of them.

Another large chunk of my charges were for X-rays. I’d expect these to be expensive with the cost of high tech equipment. Besides, I got to take my “pictures” with me to show my specialist; they are mine to keep, preserved in a large envelope, and suitable for framing.

Next is the laundry expense for the hospital gowns I wore for all of 60 minutes next to my possibly contaminating skin — two gowns because the first one I tried had one arm cut out, probably necessary to the care of a previous wearer. The second gown, not much better than the first, forced me to make-shift it due to a missing tie — very excusable inconveniences when one considers the rigorous comings and goings in the ER.

I’m guessing something our bill labeled “central supply” is the ice bag I brought home to reuse (they would have thrown it away) which, at least, gives me something to show for that $12 fee. Poorly made, it leaks; I think I could design a better one if given a choice of suitable materials.

The charge I criticize most is the smallest. Without question, the “self- administered drugs” costing $3.50 is for two ibuprofen tablets handed to me in a tiny plastic cup with another plastic cup of water. I’ve priced these specially sized plastic cups. They can be costly.

I’m not finding fault with my local hospital. I’m sure its pricing lines up well within today’s common practices, but that’s my point. I got my hundred dollars’ worth of care, yet the hospital will receive plenty more from our health insurance company.

Mark’s health care coverage changes when his steel workers’ union renegotiates. Just as we become used to one PPO and its providers, the introductory rate, offered to entice his company to hop on board, skyrockets. To become eligible for lower premiums, they switch companies, which wraps us in unsettling turnover.

How can we put these medical bucks on ice and where and when can we trim them? The thinking caps of our legislators need to be firmly in place for this one.

My baby boomer generation is reaching the age to make comparably booming demands on this country’s established health care. We were a generation to challenge the establishment of the ’60s and we changed the world. Can’t we take on this health care challenge that affects us today?


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