healthcare costs are like crooked auto repair bills

Revenue stream

April 8, 2021

   I had trouble comprehending the bill from the Palm Desert-area ER I recently received on that Spring Training trip I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I’d spent all of two hours in the ER, during which blood was drawn, an EKG administered and a hemorrhoids ointment prescribed. The bill was for $5405. I stared at it as if it were a kidnapper’s ransom note. And then, I reconsidered it as if it were a bill from a crooked auto repair shop, and it suddenly all made perfect sense.

   I’d been towed into E&R’s Auto Clinic for a hydraulic leak in the exhaust area of my aging but still reliable Dodge. Before addressing the leak, though, they hooked me up to a diagnostic machine that measured my car’s starter, carburetor and other aspects of the engine that had nothing to do with the hydraulic leak.

   They then proceeded to check my oil. Again that had nothing to do with my hydraulic leak, but had eventually pronounced the oil looked good. Finally, after two hours, during which the car stood idle and unnoticed on the lift, the mechanic suggested a sealant and sent me on my way.

   When I received my bill, I saw that they had charged me $1824 for the engine diagnostic, $1102 for the oil check and $2479 for lift services. It came to the grand total of $5405. But here is where it got really interesting. Because I had an extended warranty on my car, the overall charges were recalculated from the $5405 “rack rate,” to a more reasonable $1572.85. From this my warranty paid $1452.85, leaving me a balance due of $120.

   On its surface, it would appear the horror story of that original bill had a happy ending. Never mind it did mean I wound up paying $120 plus for a tube of Preparation H.

   On its surface, it would appear the horror story of that original bill had a happy ending. Never mind it did mean I wound up paying $120 plus for a tube of Preparation H. (What if I didn’t have that extended warranty or worse, had ignored all those robocalls and had not renewed?) The work done was the same with or without the warranty. Why was it so exorbitantly calculated, depending whether there was a warranty or not. It seemed like a nefarious scheme between the auto repair shops and the extended warranty people.

   Back to reality, if any of us had received such a bill for car repairs, we would have justifiably hit the roof and called the Better Business Bureau or a lawyer. But because it’s our own health (and who could slap a price tag on that?), we write the check and cancel that vacation to Cancun.

   We’re all sheep when it comes to health care in this country. We’re in awe of the stethoscopes and lab coats, believing the people behind them possess magical powers to cure, when in fact, they’re very sophisticated and highly trained mechanics, who know their way around a fee-for-service billing system. We’re not people, we’re revenue streams.

   The main lesson to learn, I guess, is to renew that extended warranty when that robocall rings.

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