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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

 
A societal crime

by David Atkins

Many will already have seen this excellent piece of work by the L.A. Times, but it bears repeating:

A Long Beach hospital charged Jo Ann Snyder $6,707 for a CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis after colon surgery. But because she had health insurance with Blue Shield of California, her share was much less: $2,336.

Then Snyder tripped across one of the little-known secrets of healthcare: If she hadn't used her insurance, her bill would have been even lower, just $1,054.

"I couldn't believe it," said Snyder, a 57-year-old hair salon manager. "I was really upset that I got charged so much and Blue Shield allowed that. You expect them to work harder for you and negotiate a better deal."

Unknown to most consumers, many hospitals and physicians offer steep discounts for cash-paying patients regardless of income. But there's a catch: Typically you can get the lowest price only if you don't use your health insurance.

That disparity in pricing is coming under fire from people like Snyder, who say it's unfair for patients who pay hefty insurance premiums and deductibles to be penalized with higher rates for treatment.

The difference in price can be stunning. Los Alamitos Medical Center, for instance, lists a CT scan of the abdomen on a state website for $4,423. Blue Shield says its negotiated rate at the hospital is about $2,400.

When The Times called for a cash price, the hospital said it was $250.

"It frustrates people because there's no correlation between what things cost and what is charged," said Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a research arm of the accounting firm. "It changes the game when healthcare's secrets aren't so secret."

Snyder's experience is hardly unique. In addition to Los Alamitos, The Times contacted seven other hospitals across Southern California, and nearly all had similar disparities between what a patient would pay through an insurer and the cash price offered for a common CT, or computed tomography, scan, which provides a more detailed image than an X-ray.
This is not a political problem. It's a crime against society.

And a political system that takes the only obvious solution to this problem, single-payer healthcare, off the table from day one is broken beyond all reason.

This election will be fought between two men whose "solutions" to this debacle are based on a system that cannot possibly solve it, and who contradict their own positions on the subject from just a few short years ago. The makeup of what passes for our legislative branch is already guaranteed to produce no answers of any kind when it deadlocks after the next election, even as what passes for our judicial branch seems likely to throw the entire muddled mess into turmoil with an abjectly partisan, closely divided ruling.

At what point will the jingoists step back and admit that not only do we not have the best healthcare system in the world (which is obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention), our political system is pretty rotten, too?


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