If you’ve been following this blog at all you know that in early April my dermatologist and I found a stage 1 melanoma on my arm. This diagnosis required four successive doctor’s appointments—two more to the dermatologist and two to a plastic surgeon who handled the excision. The surgery took a total of 25 minutes and required six stitches. As far as procedures go, this was a minor one.
Overall, I’m lucky: No further treatment was required, I am on pretty good health insurance thanks to my boyfriend’s employer, and I have money saved up for unforseen circumstances exactly like this one. However, not everyone is in such a good place. In fact, many aren’t.
My doctor’s bills over the past few months have amounted to $500+ in out-of-pocket fees for me. Without insurance, a possibility I don’t want to imagine, I would have paid $3,500+. Each doctor’s visit was $175, the various biopsies and pathology reports cost about $750, and the actual in-office procedure was $1,350. I broke it down and figured out that my surgeon was paid $52.00 per minute, which to me seems, well, unacceptable.
Up until recently I rarely thought about my health insurance. I am young and outside of some allergies and a congenital heart murmur that only means I have to take antibiotics before going to the dentist, nothing has ever been wrong with me. I simply accepted that my various employers would take out Aetna/Horizon/Blue Cross’s monthly pre-tax fee from my salary and paid the small bills I received after my annual doctor visits. Yes, I’d read stories about people whose lives had been upended because of medical debt, and I sympathized as much as I could, but I didn’t truly understand their plight because I hadn’t been there at all.
Now, I get it—and my case, much like the small procedure done on my arm, is a pretty minor one. I don’t want to think about what a mastectomy or heart surgery bill would look like.
I know going to medical school is a costly endeavor—don’t get me started about the ridiculously high cost of an education in this country—and I respect that doctors want to earn their keep. I also understand that health care companies have the right to reel in some dollars too. They are, after all, businesses that are publicly traded in the stock market. However, someone (hello, elected representatives) needs regulate these escalating costs and protect this country’s citizens from the “bottom line.”
After receiving a $400 bill yesterday my first thought was, “I’ll just wait until my next doctor’s appointment in July to get that other other freckle checked out,” but that isn’t right. I shouldn’t be weighing my future health against an upcoming bill, yet I have a feeling I’m not the only one who approaches his or her medical care this way.
I wish I could end this with some revolutionary new idea of how we can fix this, but I have no answers. There’s too much politics, lobbying, and big business interests intertwined with our own heath. Instead I have only a lingering sense of frustration, an emotion I’m sure those of you who’ve dealt with a similar or much, much worse situation, can understand.