Health insurance costs are obscene

Kyle Schmidlin and Kyle Schmidlin

Back in high school, one of the guys on the wrestling team dislocated his shoulder in the middle of a match. He took a timeout, slammed himself against one of the mats, popped the shoulder back in and finished the match.

But if you have to have a doctor look at it, it’s amazing what a hassle even a minor thing like a dislocated shoulder can be.

I dislocated my shoulder at the end of December 2009. If I didn’t have insurance, the cost to fix it would quickly approach $4,000.

Actually, there’s still a good chance the bill will wind up being pretty hefty even after insurance pays the deductible and 85 percent.

Over this past weekend, my mother showed me the bills she has been receiving from the hospital. For some reason, showing the hospital my insurance card wasn’t enough — each bill she gets, she sends back with our insurance information.

And the bills are preposterous. When I dislocated my shoulder, I was with one of my friends and had him try to pop it back in. He couldn’t, and I had to call an ambulance (neither of us were able to drive). After a little while, the EMS arrived and took me to Wood County Hospital, where I was sedated, a couple doctors shoved the shoulder back in (they did say it was harder than usual), I woke up and was released.

If only that had actually been the end of it.

Several billing statements came through the mail, some containing threats of the bill being past due. Again, my mother sent them back to the insurance company, but when I looked at what was actually on the bills it seemed ridiculous.

Sedation: $200. Putting the shoulder back in: $330. Emergency room visit: $1,922. Emergency “department” fee: $475. X-ray specialist: $60. Ambulance ride: $300.

One hesitates to use the word “crook,” but it does spring to mind. How can the broad proclamations lauding the American health care system as the finest of the fine be taken seriously in light of numbers like these?

And I’m blessed with supposedly good insurance. I can’t imagine what a serious health difficulty might mean to a truly poor person. In a country with resources as vast as ours, access to health care should never be an issue.

While it may be true that America contains some of the best doctors in the world, and that the profit incentive may have been their motivation to become doctors, what difference does it make when the care is inaccessible to so many Americans? Knowing the cost of such a simple operation now would disincline me from seeking it in the future. Once you dislocate a shoulder once (and I have done it twice now), it becomes easier to do it again and again. If it happens again and I’m uninsured or under-covered, I’ll just keep working it back into place myself, possibly causing muscle damage in the process.

Sure, I am thankful of the doctor for putting my shoulder back in its rightful place at 2 a.m. after I sloppily dislocated it at a bar. And I’d say they did an OK job — my shoulder is still in the socket, at least.

But being thankful is a far cry from believing the care I received justified the cost. Surely there must be something fundamentally rotten about our system if the simple procedure my wrestling buddy used to do to himself against the mat could bankrupt me at the hospital.

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