Faint in Public? Pay a Hospital $10,000
|April 18, 2009||Posted by Staff under Archive|
Emergency rooms charge through the roof. Can those costs be brought down somehow? Are there monopolies creating bottlenecks? If Medicare and big insurance companies did not pick up the tab, would hospitals lower the tab? If citizens received a dividend from societys surplus — mainly the worth of land and resources — and if they could keep more income, untaxed, would they be so determined to drive such hard bargains and pad their fees? This 2009 article from Miller-McCune was posted on AlterNet Apr 1.
By Kirk Nielsen
While at a symphony concert, suddenly I felt weirdly lightheaded, so I turned to hasten to my seat. I took three steps, got the spins and took a nosedive. Upon impact, I regained some consciousness and sat half-sprawled with my elbows on the carpet. A short-haired middle-age woman was crouching next to me, saying, “You blacked out … I’m not a doctor … That happens to me … You should lay down.”
Assuming the dead man’s pose in the lobby sounded fairly embarrassing, so I resolved to head for a posh bench several paces away. With someone’s help, I got to my feet, and within two steps, a heavy wave of dizziness nearly sent me back down. I made it to the bench and sat, feeling exhausted and nauseated.
There was talk of an usher who was also a paramedic. He — a polite young man in a dark suit — appeared and took my blood pressure, which was very low as was my pulse. He said calmly that one option was to call an ambulance.
“I can’t afford that,” I muttered.
Then my eyes rolled upward into my skull as I blacked out again, my chin dropping to the top of my chest and the rest of me still just sitting there.
Moments later, I awoke from a frenzied dream, intensely disoriented, then realized I was still on the bench. The usher was looking at me. “You did it again,” he said. Not certain I wasn’t in the early stages of some kind of gradual heart failure — I had felt some weirdness in my chest before my sprawl on the carpet — I consented to the ambulance ride.
Within a few minutes I was rolling feet-first on a stretcher, then aboard the rescue truck. They affixed an intravenous tube into my arm and tossed some nitroglycerine pellets, which dilate the blood vessels, into my mouth. Then they put an oxygen mask over my mouth.
Soon I was in an emergency room bed in downtown St. Paul, still connected to an IV while nurses further hooked me up to an EKG and drew blood from my arm to start testing for heart attack enzymes.
Within an hour came the impression from my emergency-room doctor that I had suffered syncope, a manly term for fainting. The question now, the doctor continued, is why. “When your heart rate drops to 40 all of a sudden and you pass out, it’s a good idea to find out what’s going on,” he said tersely. Thus, I would be spending the night in the hospital, having my heart monitored and my blood analyzed.
The doctor had me recap my day, ending at the concert hall. He mentioned something about blood sometimes “pooling” in people’s legs when they sit or stand for extended periods of time. Then he left. Eventually, I was rolled upstairs to a room in the cardiac wing.
The nocturnal heart monitoring, followed by a midday echocardiogram, turned up nothing but a very healthy heart. Diagnosis: a case of dehydration-induced syncope. Dehydration (apparently caused by the cumulative effects of my Miami to Minneapolis plane ride, a long hot sauna at my parents’ house, too much alcohol and coffee, not enough glasses of water and the desiccating air of a very cold, extraordinarily dry Minnesota winter) had reduced my blood volume. It pooled in my legs as I mingled in the Ordway lobby. There wasn’t enough left to make it to my head. My low heart rate was from conditioning, the doctors said, because I tend to run for an hour about several times a week (in Florida). I was discharged.
Then the bills started arriving at my Miami Beach apartment from the hospital: for “Emergency Department Visit,” for “Initial Hospital Care,” for “Facility Service,” for “Hospital Discharge Day,” and more — and one from the ambulance company. The total cost of my fainting emergency: $10,260.
But lucky me. I owe only $2,267. “Your savings: $7,992.87,” the summary states. Good thing I paid Blue Cross / Blue Shield $1,500 in premiums over the past year to cover me for emergencies.
Upon further inspection of my statement I noticed a curious. BCBS had to pay only $2,582 — about one-fourth — of that $10,260. So who paid the balance of my $7,992 in “savings”?
No one. The $7,992 was discounted because hospitals let BCBS and other big insurance companies pay lower rates than ordinary, underinsured Americans.
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