Health care good, but paying for it... - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Commentary

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Health care good, but paying for it...

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Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 11:00 pm

Listening to the health care debate I have two observations: medical care is pretty good, but the way we pay for it is horribly flawed.

I had a heart attack a few months ago and the care I received at the Paradise Valley Hospital was top-notch. A cardio specialist had me on a table and was working on me within an hour of arrival. Within less than 48 hours I was at home contemplating my new perspective on life.

So all in all, I would say that health care is pretty good. Doctors can make mistakes, and not everyone has access to every new bell and whistle in the medical tool chest, but all in all it is the envy of the world.

On the other hand, the financial side of medicine is completely dysfunctional.

Less than 20 hours after my heart attack a very nice girl from billing, who couldn’t look me in the eye, visited me in the ICU and told me that after insurance, I owed $5,000, and she wondered how I wanted to pay.

We eventually got that straightened out, my insurance did cover most of the costs and the check I wrote was much, much smaller.

But what amazed me wasn’t what I paid, but what my heart attack cost, or didn’t cost. According to the hospital, my run-of-the-mill heart attack cost something north of $50,000. But because Blue Cross Blue Shield, my health insurance carrier, says that it should only cost $25,000, the hospital wrote off the rest.

So my question is, what does a heart attack really cost? Was it $50,000 or $25,000? What if I had better insurance, would the company have paid the hospital more? What if I had no insurance, would they have written off the whole amount? And what if I was wealthy, instead of a simple reporter? Would the hospital have charged me the full $50,000, or more?

The question is interesting because health care costs are skyrocketing. In Arizona the costs for medical care that taxpayers pay for have grown by $1 billion in the last five years. And, nationally, Medicare costs go up by 10 percent a year. If the cost of medical care for the poor, children, elderly and indigent continues to grow, eventually there won’t be any money left for things like schools, defense, libraries, the highway patrol or any of the other fun things that people have grown accustomed to.

Remember how a couple years ago the big fear out of Washington was that the Social Security system would collapse and needed to be reformed or there wouldn’t be any money available in a couple decades?

The Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees said in the 2009 annual report that “As we reported last year, Medicare’s financial difficulties come sooner – and are much more severe – than those confronting Social Security.”

The $50,000 heart attacks, which may only be a $25,000 heart attack, is going to bankrupt the system.

I don’t know if a single-payer system is better or if illegal immigrants should be covered or if people should be forced to buy insurance like we do with automobile insurance.

I just know that the medical system is pretty good, but paying for it is a mess.


Doug Murphy is a staff writer and Opinion page editor with the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He can be reached at (480) 898-7914 or

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