Watch Your Back! Surprise Medical Bills May Await

September 26, 2014
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Show me where it hurts

Dr. Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, writing from New York, had this to say in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Show me where it hurts

Dr. Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, writing from New York, had this to say in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

A patient recently asked, “What would happen if there was no health insurance?” I responded, “The prices for all medical goods and services would immediately plummet.”

I would direct his attention to Sunday’s New York Times (After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know), which presents a much more realistic view of what goes on in New York City and around the country. To wit:

  • A patient had a neck surgery he may or may not have needed. (There are 2x-5x as many spine surgeries in the US as elsewhere in the rich world. The multiples are particularly high in places where surgeons like to live)
  • The orthopedist charged $133,000 but was reimbursed (and willingly accepted) $6,200. That’s on top of $60,000 or so in other charges from the hospital and anesthesiologist
  • An out-of-network “assistant surgeon,” probably not needed, billed an additional $117,000, which the insurance company ended up paying in full. The orthopedist says he didn’t take a cut of the assistant’s fee. Whether it’s true in this case or not, it happens

So what does this tell us?

  • That the information Dr. Amerling provided to his patient is naive at best
  • That insurance companies need to find better ways to contain costs or that regulators need to change the rules to allow them to do so
  • That patients need to be more skeptical of recommendations for surgery (especially spinal surgery)
  • That a single payer system, for all its faults, looks superior to the current state of affairs
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There are benefits managers like MedSolutions that help insurance companies and employers deal with this sort of nonsense. At the very least this news should be good for their business.

photo credit: Darcie via photopin cc