Monday, December 22, 2008


Late last week I received the first of what I'm sure is going to be a long series of statements of account relating to my surgery. I was admitted to the hospital on December 1st, and discharged December 3rd, after spending two nights. This particular statement covers only hospital charges (not the surgeon's bill and who knows what else), and only for December 1st -- the first day of my stay (and the day of my surgery). Just that one day.

So what was my hospital bill -- hospital only, remember -- for that one day?


Seriously??? $49,014.25 for just the hospital's charges for just the first day? (How does anyone get medical care in this country without insurance?)

So Judi and I were in the car -- she was driving, of course -- and I was ranting about this bill:

"$3,521.25 for medication!" I said. "I don't even recall taking any pills. I mean, it's not like I'm on antiretrovirals. What could they have given me that cost that much?"

Judi kept driving.

"The operating room charge is $8,352!," I said. "I was in there for less than ninety minutes. That's a hundred dollars a minute! I realize there's a lot of equipment in an operating room, but how can they justify charging a hundred dollars a minute?"

Judi kept driving.

"$2,900 for anesthesia," I said, "and I'm sure that's not even the bill from the anesthesiologist. That's just the hospital's part. And $3,480 for the recovery room, when I was there for less than an hour? And all I did while I was there was lay there."

Judi kept driving.

"But this is the kicker," I said. "This is the real kicker. More than half the total charges, $25,090, is for 'Medical Supply.' Just unspecified 'Medical Supply.' What 'Medical Supply' could possibly cost twenty-five thousand dollars?"

"That," said Judi, without hesitating and without taking her eyes off the road, "is your knee."


You know, I don't know if $25,000 is a fair price for a device sits inside a human's body for years or maybe decades and functions like a knee, but it so happens that I work for a company that manufactures electronics for commercial airplanes, and so I know what it's like to make a product into which your customer places the faith of his very health and life. Compared with, for example, making cell phones, or cargo shorts, or toasters, it can be a sobering responsibility. It makes you keenly aware (or it should, anyway) of quality and craftsmanship. It also makes your product very, very expensive.

I don't want to detract from the value of your work if you make cell phones, or cargo shorts, or toasters. This nation, including me, couldn't run without you. I just want to take a moment to ponder twenty-five thousand dollars worth of nylon and stainless steel buried in my leg.

And, oh, by the way, you can see that Judi is way smarter than I am.

In 1984 my c-section, 5 days in hospital, special care for infant, private room cost $6,000. I got a whole human being with all her body parts. You only got a knee -- I would say you got ripped off!

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