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Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Eye Opener on Affordable Healthcare

This afternoon I'm recovering from having my first cataract removed, from my right eye.

I was totally impressed by how painless and efficient the surgery was. Compared to only decades ago, when this would have required several days of recuperation in the hospital (with a sandbag on each side of my head to keep me absolutely motionless), this was a cakewalk. I’ve experienced far more discomfort in a dentist’s chair.

However, today’s procedure was, to put it mildly, a lot more expensive than a dental visit. It involved my having, by turn, the attention of at least five Rockingham Memorial Hospital health care workers in addition to my excellent surgeon, Dr. Kenlyn Miller.

And I’m fortunate to have both Medicare and Everence as good insurance providers, thanks to the nationally funded insurance program that’s been in place since 1965, plus the contribution my work makes to my having a good secondary insurance policy.

I’m not really complaining about the cost, but here are the numbers:

Rockingham Eye Physicians: for an eye examination, a pre-op and post op office visit and Dr. Miller’s 15 minutes of surgery, $2265.

Rockingham Memorial Hospital: for the use of their operating room and the help of their great nursing staff for over an hour, another $3,460.

Medicap Pharmacy: for the eye drops required prior to and following the procedure, an additional $170.

That adds up to a total bill of $ 5,895, which in my case is not a serious problem since I’m blessed with good insurance. But what if I had not yet been eligible for Medicare, was struggling to make ends meet, and for some reason just couldn’t afford health coverage?

A hotly debated issue these days is whether healthcare is some kind of constitutionally supported role government should be involved in. Personally, I am impressed by how Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups simply take care of each other’s major health care costs, groups that have opted out of receiving government help. 

But what about the rest of us?

One thing America’s founders clearly didn't anticipate is the astonishing revolution in medical science in the past century, which has nearly doubled life expectancy but has also created unimaginable increases in costs they could never have dreamed of. Back in the good old days (which none of us would likely choose to go back to) people were generally able to pay for whatever primitive but often unreliable remedies that were available. Or if necessary their neighbors and friends could easily chip in to help pay the bill.

But a century ago many more people simply died for lack of the kind of treatments we take for granted today--for conditions like cancer, kidney failure, pneumonia, heart failure, or strokes for which we now feel we have to provide every prohibitively expensive treatment and prolonged life support possible.

Thus the blessing of costly but often effective remedies and the curse of astronomical increases in costs have created a serious dilemma. The nation finds itself in some serious uncharted territory, and has yet to determine how “we the people” should respond, for the “common good” and for the “general welfare.”

Meanwhile, if we don’t opt for the Amish solution, and if I wouldn’t have the coverage I do, could any of you spare me a couple grand for my next cataract surgery?
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