September 2009
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Health Care Update

Carolyn and Elizabeth will be 4 months old tomorrow, and they’re still doing really well. They probably weigh about 11.5 pounds now, so they’re quickly closing in on tripling their birth weight. Janet and I are hanging in there… She’s back to work full time, and it has been a little hard readjusting to that. Plus, she’s still not really able to sleep for longer than about 3 hours at a time, because she’s got to get up in the middle of the night to pump milk for the girls while we feed them. I’m also getting adjusted to my new life, taking care of the girls during the day and working only in the evenings. I miss geocaching.

healthcostAnyway, a few months ago we posted an article titled Four Weeks Of Health Care, in which we tried to estimate the health care expenses that the girls had incurred so far. We hadn’t seen any bills yet, so we really didn’t have a clue; but based on rumors we picked up from the nurses, we guessed it was somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000 per day. Each. That sounds rather ridiculously expensive, right? About what you’d expect? WRONG! We had seriously underestimated. The final results are now in, and the total cost was quite a bit more than the most generous amounts we had been considering.

First of all, the total cost for Janet’s delivery and all the doctor visits throughout the pregnancy came to around $57,000. Valleycare billed $7,000 even though Janet was transferred to John Muir after only a couple hours. The ambulance ride was about $1,300. The delivery itself was $2,800, the epidural was about $1,400, and Janet’s three day hospitalization at John Muir was almost $27,000.

But let’s skip to the really big ticket items — the girls!  You’ll recall that Elizabeth was released from the hospital first, after spending 5½ weeks in the Intensive Care Nursery. Carolyn was released a week later, spending 6½ weeks there. Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Elizabeth’s hospital bill was $596,000, and Carolyn’s was just over $705,000. In other words, they were running up over $100,000 per week, or $15,000 per day. EACH. Also, the doctor bills for the girls are separate from the hospital bills, and totaled about $20,000 each.

So here’s the bottom line — altogether, having these twins resulted in bills amounting to just over $1,400,000.

Well, except that’s not really the bottom line. First of all, before you get all alarmed for us being buried under a mountain of debt for the rest of our lives, rest assured that Janet and I are responsible people, and so of course we have health insurance. We have a maximum annual family deductible of $2,000, and since there were a few doctor visits in 2008, the total cost we’ve paid (in addition to constantly paying for our health insurance, that is) is about $2,300. All things considered, that’s not so bad.

Furthermore, it has been interesting to note that, in most cases the insurance company has only paid about 50% of the billed amount on each claim — and apparently, the hospital is OK with that. Apparently this is normal for health insurance payments. This means that when we talk about the high cost of health care, we need to be clear that the billed amount is almost never the amount that gets paid, and the actual cost is roughly half that. Even so, half of $1.4 million is still a huge chunk of money.

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If anyone is still reading, be warned that I’m about to climb up on my soapbox for a minute. You see, I have at least a few friends (probably several) who would point to my story and say, “See?  This is exactly why we need Obama’s health care reform!” But my feeling is exactly the opposite. Yes, there are instances where insurance companies act despicably and cheat the people they’re supposed to help, but this case is a clear example of the system working fairly well.

Here’s the main problem, which I’ve never heard Obama (or any supporter) address. The number of doctors in the US is growing at a much slower rate than the general population, and the number of nurses hasn’t been growing at all for years. (Some stats I’ve seen predict a 60% increase in the elderly population over the next 15 years, with a 17% increase in the overall population. Unfortunately, the population of doctors is projected to increase only 6% over the same time period.) So even if we do nothing at all, health care is going to be harder and harder to come by. Obama’s plan will immediately inject almost 50 million new patients into the system with no commensurate increase in health care personnel. At the same time, he wants to cut medical fees by dropping Medicare reimbursement rates, which will only serve to encourage many doctors to retire and discourage others from entering the profession, thus making the problem even worse. All this means THERE WILL BE RATIONING, and inevitably it will be the elderly who suffer most.

One more thing… I keep hearing Obamacare supporters saying that there will be no such thing as “death panels” because the term isn’t used anywhere in the bill. Of course words like “death panels” aren’t written into the bill. But because Obamacare will definitely result in a massive shortage of health care providers and make rationing a necessity, it is simply inescapable that at some point, some government bean counter will end up making decisions about who gets their health care authorized and who gets denied — and once you have that, the elderly will always end up getting the short end of the stick. In one fell swoop, the elderly will go from being the group with the most access to free health care to being the group with the least. I hear they’re turning away from the Democratic party in droves these days, and it’s hardly a surprise.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sad for people who don’t have health insurance. I’d love to find ways of changing the system that would enable more people to get their own private health insurance. It was encouraging to hear Obama finally acknowledge the need to establish better controls on malpractice lawsuits and the obscenely expensive malpractice insurance that doctors must carry — even though, in the same breath, he downplayed the importance of this step. Obama claims his plan will come to the rescue of 50 million people, and that sounds really good and noble — until you realize that it will in fact PUNISH 300 million people, especially the elderly, by lowering the quality and availability of care for everyone.

No thank you!

— — —

Anyone still reading? If so, you may also be interested to check out these insightful and informative blogs by ambassador Alan Keyes and political analyst Dick Morris. I respect Keyes quite a bit, and it saddens me that he can probably never succeed in politics because he’s too good, too honorable, too principled. At times I’ve considered that Morris is so politically savvy that might be the devil himself; but he’s usually spot on with his analysis.

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