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The High Cost of High Costs

Something I should append to my piece a few days ago about my mother…

Remember her hospital stay at Cedars-Sinai? The one that caused me to fly back suddenly from San Francisco? Here is what happened to her that night.

She was taken in by ambulance. Once she was there, they gave her an EKG, which is a fairly simple and standard test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart. They also gave her a Tylenol. When they determined that she hadn't had a heart attack then, they phoned her regular hospital, which was Kaiser, and Kaiser sent an ambulance over to transport her to its facility for further treatment. So that's all that was done to her at Cedars: An EKG, a physician evaluating that EKG and someone giving her a Tylenol.

Now, as it happened, my mother had very good health insurance. It was a policy my father got in 1959 on a special, limited-time offering that was made then to government employees. It covered darn near everything, it couldn't be cancelled and there were limits on how much the insurer could raise her premiums each year. It was a policy you couldn't get today and it paid for almost every penny of this hospitalization. I think she had a couple of $5.00 co-pays in there. But they did send her an itemized bill for what it would have cost her if she'd been uninsured and was expected to pay out of pocket.

Would you be horrified if I told you she got a bill for $1200?

Would you be even more horrified if I told you that bill was just for the ambulance ride to Cedars-Sinai? The bill from Cedars-Sinai for her emergency room stay was for $7498.00. The whole thing came to eighty-seven hundred smackers.

Now to be fair, if she'd been uninsured, she would probably not have had to pay that full amount. They would have forgiven some of it or had some charity fund pay part of it or settled for some large (to her) amount. But even then, it would have wiped out a good-sized chunk of her life's savings and the money she was counting on for her older-age and just receiving that bill might have sent her back to the hospital. None of this is good for the health of a woman in her eighties.

This was in 2009. I have a feeling the costs have gone up and that evening now would cost well over ten grand.

There is a Health Care Crisis in this country. Take a look at this post by Ezra Klein. It is by no means an insurmountable problem but we can't do nothing about it and those who insist Obamacare is too expensive are ignoring the cost of doing nothing, which is higher and includes massive loss of life. My main joy over the election is that Mitt Romney won't be making good on his pander-to-the-Tea-Party pledge to on Day One of his presidency, take away the health insurance of millions of Americans. He never did manage to explain why it wasn't the same thing he was so proud of installing in Massachusetts.

Here's a theory: That man could have won the Presidency if he'd convinced much of his country he really would and could "Repeal and Replace." If he'd proposed a firm, detailed outline of something better than Obamacare, he'd have gotten more electoral votes than George Will predicted. Democrats and Republicans alike would have voted for him because he'd done a better job than Obama of solving the Health Care Crisis. But he didn't have such a plan.

No one seems to. For all the kvetching about Obamacare, no one has seriously offered an alternative that's any more than Obamacare tweaked a bit. The "Ryan Plan" remains at best a framework for a real plan but it lacks key details including anything to actually lower the cost of a chest x-ray or a patented prescription drug.

My most Conservative pal Roger and I can't talk politics without him going to his fear of a terrorist attack in this country. That is not of no concern but there are other ways to die. Neither of us knows anyone who has died in a terrorist attack but we both know people who've died from lack of heath insurance. We also know a few who've lost everything but their lives paying the bills that result from lack of health insurance.

Readers of this blog write me all the time and ask, "What would it take to get you to vote for a Republican these days?" There are many things but a big one would be to either come up with an actual plan to control the skyrocketing cost of Health Care…or admit that Obamacare is a decent starting point and build from there.