Commentary: Determining The Actual Cost Of Health Care

By Bill Wineke Special to Channel 3000

Not to get too personal, but I used to have a kidney stone.

It didn’t cause me the excruciating pain some people experience with kidney stones, but it did end up causing some discomfort and my physician and my urologist recommended it be removed.

The process involved a physician visit, a CAT scan, and an in-hospital procedure that did not involve spending even one night.

The bills so far have totaled almost $25,000.

If I had had to pay those bills out-of-pocket, I would have dropped my entire Social Security income for the entire year.

But, I didn’t pay them out-of-pocket. In fact, no one paid those bills in full.

Instead, my Medicare Advantage plan disallowed more than $20,000 of the expenditures and I paid just over $850 out of my own pocket.

In other words, the whole process was just a fiction. No one really knows what it actually cost the various medical groups that provided my care what that care cost. My guess is that it probably cost a lot less than $25,000 — and it just might have cost more than the $5,000 or so the providers actually received.

That’s one reason I get so frustrated at all the commotion about our national health insurance laws.

Medical care costs money. It costs money if you have insurance and it costs money if you don’t have insurance.

Care is easy to come by if you have good insurance and it is easy to come by if you are very poor and have no insurance.

If you work for a company with inadequate insurance or, if you just lost your job and have a home and savings but no longer have health insurance, an accident or a diagnosis of cancer may well mean that you go bankrupt.

If I weren’t covered by the socialized medicine called Medicare — which underwrites my private health insurance — I have no doubt that I would have been billed $25,000 for my kidney stone. I wouldn’t have gone bankrupt — but I would have lost a good chunk of my retirement savings.

A system that creates such winners and losers in health care coverage cannot be described as the “greatest health care system on earth.” It just can’t.

On the other hand, I read that Meriter Clinics is adding 175 physicians and building new facilities all over the place in order to compete in the new environment caused by the “affordable care” law and I have to ask if this is any way to curb medical costs.

So, I’m left with one thing I do know and one thing I don’t know.

I do know that repealing “Obama Care” is a really stupid idea because, for all its faults, it holds the promise of making life easier for those less fortunate than I am. I also know the federal law is not a panacea, but we don’t have anything better to go on right now.

What I don’t know is how much it actually cost to get rid of that kidney stone. Until we can figure out how much health care actually costs, we’re going to have a hard time developing a rational policy to pay for it.