Our health care system gives me nightmares

Last night I had a nightmare about the costs of health care.  In the dream, my bank balance was zero dollars and when I went to the bank to find out what happened, they told me my balance was actually -$1500 due to two charges of $831 from the local hospital.  I was livid that the hospital would just go into my account somehow and take all my money.  In the dream, I knew that I should have had $236 in my account.

Now, that’s not a lot of cushion in a bank account, but I know that from now on, relying solely on my husband’s income, things are going to be much tighter than they have been.  You could say I’m a little anxious about that.  But in real life, I have several times that amount in the bank currently.

But in the dream, the hospital had somehow charged us without informing us and without us giving them permission to do so.  The rest of the dream consisted of talking to the bank and the hospital and the insurance companies and trying to make those charges go away.

I woke up with a profound sense of relief, realizing that it had been only a dream, that our account wasn’t really that low, and that the hospital hadn’t actually taken our money.   But the problem is that there is a bill from that same hospital sitting on my coffee table and the amount is almost $800.

Some background: my husband has ulcerative colitis which is a serious and chronic health condition.  It put him in the hospital for a week a couple of years ago.  Since then he has had to manage his condition with a whole slew of expensive medications.  One of them costs almost $300 a month.  Because of this, he was on a high-deductable insurance plan that required us to pay full cost out of pocket for everything up to $3000, but after that, everything else is covered 100% for the rest of the year.  Last year, without any major extraordinary expenses, we met that deductable in July.  (We can’t afford to be on that same plan now, but it remains to be seen how much the new plan will end up costing us.)

So, when my husband had to have routine lab work back at the beginning of December, there were no worries about paying for it.  He was unable to get his blood drawn at the usual lab because it was 5:02PM and they were closed.  So instead of driving 80 miles round trip the next day to go back there, he instead went to the local hospital to get his blood drawn.  And so the hospital did his blood work, submitted it to his insurance company and the insurance paid them $88.  And now they want us to pay $800 for routine lab work.

That seems extreme to me.  I worked in the health care field, and my feeling is that the insurance company’s assessment is about right, that a simple blood panel should cost about $88.  I bet Medicaid would pay somewhere around $50.  But the hospital, doubtless in an attempt at recouping some of the money they lose from treating uninsured patients, thinks we should pay them $800.  I can’t imagine how that could possibly be right.  In any other industry that kind of price gouging would be illegal, wouldn’t it?

What it comes down to is that I can’t afford to pay that bill.  Me not working means that our budget is really tight.  I’m still worried that we might not be able to pay our regular medical costs of insurance, prescription copays, doctor visit copays, and other regular bills.  Something like this just isn’t something I can pay.  So, I suppose I’ll do what most people who can’t afford the exorbitant costs of health care in this country do: I just won’t pay.

Now, I don’t want a bunch of advice about how to handle this bill.  We have yet to call the hospital or the insurance company, and we will.  Who knows how that will go.  My past experience tells me it won’t go well.

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