People love doctors. And, more importantly, people love TV shows about doctors. “ER” ran for 15 seasons, launching George Clooney’s career. “Grey’s Anatomy” introduced M.D.s nicknamed McDreamy, McSteamy and Katherine Heigl. She doesn’t need a nickname; she’s perfect the way she is.
These TV doctors solve so many problems: Gregory House, for example, can deduce in a trivial 45 minutes that Patient A does not have an antibiotic-resistant strain of Ebola, but suffers from hypochondria. Yet for all their knowledge of disease, doctors — real and fake — are not able to solve the most diseased part of our healthcare system: its costs.
Earlier this year, Steven Brill published a special report in Time Magazine to answer one question: Why does health care cost so much? Essentially, he found out, because it does.
Hospital prices are based on a centralized document called a chargemaster, which lists prices for every procedure or service. But I’m a vibrant, youthful 18 to 25-year-old, you say. This doesn’t affect me.
I thought the same thing, until the healthcare system touched me — literally and figuratively — when I dropped what I was doing to drop my pants in the doctor’s office for a physical exam.
Over spring break, I had a physical exam because I like to be told that 135 pounds is a healthy weight for a 20-year-old, 5-foot-9 male. It’s the opposite of what I get told in the ARC weight room. After the exam, I needed to get a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.
A few days later, I saw the physical cost $50 and the vaccination was $150. If syringes cost that much on the free market, heroin addiction would drop to zero; no one would ever again be forced to see Jared Leto’s infected arm in Requiem for a Dream. Seriously though, that was almost as gross as watching Kevin Ware break his leg.
Because of the sticker shock, I decided to research the UC Davis chargemaster. Luckily, California has a law requiring hospitals to disclose their chargemasters, which you can now search online. It’s called the Payers’ Bill of Rights. As White Goodman said, “The hippies finally got something right! Just kidding. But not really.” The chargemaster for the UC Davis Medical Center provides insight into and evidence of the broken healthcare system in the United States.
An arm cast from UCDMC costs $1,273. If you choke in the ER and a nurse performs CPR to save your life, that’s $1,400. Men, if your, ahem, “syringe” becomes engorged with fluid (and not the wink-wink-nudge-nudge type), incision and drainage will set you back $1,800. Women, you might receive a bilateral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to screen for breast cancer; but at $7,439.50, the procedure requires too many Benjamin Franklins to pay for to fit into any size cup.
My recreational drug and makeshift poker chip of choice, aspirin, costs $1 per pill. Compared to Amazon.com prices (4 cents per pill), UCDMC marks it up 2,500 percent. The other 96 cents must get you great service.
A power gradient exists between doctors and patients. Katherine Heigl can run a line down my throat to administer feeding fluid; I can run Google to look at pictures of Katherine Heigl. I’d like to think that they require the same level of skill, but they don’t.
Consequently, we defer to M.D.s and don’t question them as we should. But we need to. Doctors don’t grace us with their presence: They work in a service industry. Just like we have a right to ask for fries with that at Mickey D’s, we should have a right to assert ourselves with our healthcare providers. At $1 a pop, no, I don’t want aspirin with that.
For $50, I’d like more out of my annual “turn-and-cough” exam. A hearty red wine and rib-eye steak would be nice. So ask more of your doctors and accept your role as a patient with rights, not just responsibilities.
We need to demand more transparency from healthcare providers and less from their latex gloves. I implore you to hear my cry to action, because the $95,760 cochlear implant that could help you hear it is probably out of your price range.
If you would like BEN BIGELOW to turn and cough for you, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.