Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Medicine: There Should be an App for That.

The problem with health care is the total disconnect between the service or procedure and the consumer.  With a family of eight, although everyone is apparently healthy overall, our bills tell a different story.

We have various run-ins with doctors all year.  One "minor" day surgery procedure -- which entailed a total of two hours in and out, a snip here, a stitch there, a bit of anesthesia -- cost us a cool ten thousand dollars.  Yes, that's right.  It makes me yearn for the old days (not really) when we could have just gone in and done the snipping and stitching ourselves.  But seriously, before the procedure, being the optimists that we are (or were), we figured this procedure would cost maybe two thousand dollars.  Seemed like a good imaginary price.  But of course, we found out later, we were wrong.  Totally wrong.  We did call before the procedure to find out how much it would all cost, and we were told that it would take two to three weeks to get us an estimate.  (That should have been the tip-off).

Then there was the thirty-minute MRI that cost us five thousand dollars.  Ten years ago, the exact same procedure using the exact same machine (I recognized it) had cost five hundred dollars.  When we called afterwards to find out why the procedure had increased ten times in price in ten years, we got not even an attempt to explain the huge difference in price.

Now today I have another "minor" procedure to attend to.  So, being the savvy consumer that I am, I called to inquire about price.  I was shuffled off by phone to the appropriate department, and when I reached the person (thankful she was actually there), she told me that it would take her three days to work up an "estimate".  I asked her whether this wasn't a pretty run-of-the-mill typical procedure, and shouldn't they have an "estimate" already?  (I would think that after three days they could actually give me a cool, hard price, after all that time and work).  Not the least bit amused, she explained that she would have to refer the question to various appropriate departments, and then repeated her answer that it would take them three days to work up that estimate.  Clearly, I wasn't getting anywhere.  I tried again -- well, shouldn't someone have some ballpark idea?  No, becoming tired of me and my apparent lack of understanding, she repeated the same answer.  (I might have detected a sigh too).  Then she added that most people who are concerned about price call well in advance.

As I hung up, resigned to my fate, I couldn't help but think, shouldn't we all be concerned about price?  Is there any other arena of life in which we are not concerned about price?  I mean, I worry about the price of diapers, ice cream, dinner out, dance lessons, soccer cleats, Christmas.  We have a budget for these things.  Most people do have budgets, I think.  Or at least they have a defined income within which they must live.  I can't think of any other industry in which people, including those who work in their field, are totally in the dark about price.

Even if he doesn't know exactly how much is owed, perhaps, at least a person knows what his monthly house payment is or what his car payment is, if he has one.  We are concerned about big prices and little prices.  I was just out Christmas shopping and my shopping buddy decided to wait to buy some gifts until she could be sure she could get the best possible price.

Now, I just read, there's an app that can tell you, right at the store, whether you're getting the best deal on that giant set of paper towels, or whether you should drive next door to save a couple dollars -- maybe even five.  It can tell you whether you're getting the best deal on the Pharaoh Lego set for your darling cutie-pie.

Just recently a friend face-booked all of us on her great grocery deals at Shaw's -- with pictures and everything!  Just imagine if every week we went into the grocery store, loaded up on groceries for the week, and then on checking out, were told that the store would work on it and send us a bill in the next week or so.  Imagine buying a house and signing all those papers (there's an endless amount of paperwork at the doctor's office too), all with no idea how much the whole thing is going to cost.  Even attorneys have hourly rates and specific document fees or flat-rate fees, of which they inform their clients before they begin representation.

So, as I head off into the great hazy unknown for my minor procedure, be concerned for me, and wish me good luck--on the price.

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