Even with that caveat, I'm astonished at some of the prices I've been charged for health care procedures. Here is a sampling of some of the costs that blew my mind. I don't want to come across as ungrateful since I literally owe my child's life to the people who have cared for him.
- $2,693: U of U Neonatal ICU room: My son was born with spina bifida. That meant that part of his spinal cord was poking out of his back in a little bubble when he was born. Obviously a touchy situation right after birth. After he was born, they passed him through a window from the delivery room into the neonatal ICU room. (We knew about the condition before his birth and were in the right place to be prepared to deal with it.) He stayed there for 90 minutes. They kept his back clean and safe in preparation for transport to Primary Children's Medical Center (PCMC).
- $237: IHC Life Flight Service: This was the cost to roll my son through a hallway/tunnel that connects the U of U hospital (where he was born) into PCMC. Sure the gurney was like a space capsule, but it was obvious that it was massive lawsuit-avoidance overkill in transporting him between the two facilities. The task took about 15 minutes with two attendants. There was no helicopter involved. My part of the monthly premium (though my employer pays the lion's share) for health insurance is $277. If this tiny part of the care for my child is consumed with a pretty mundane task, how can we hope that I'll ever pay in enough to cover all the rest of this stuff?
- $5,291: Neurosurgeon's bill. The surgery took a couple of hours. The quality of this surgery will affect the rest of my son's life. From what I can tell, it was done flawlessly. I list the price here for comparison with the neonatal room above. Sure, the surgeon made more in two hours than I earned in the month, but some things are worth paying for. I think this was one of them.
- $161: Pediatrician visit in hospital. The doctor moves from room to room, checking on each child and answering questions from the parents. Each time he visited us for 5-8 minutes, they billed the same $161. I realize that I'm paying something for his availability and skill, but for a visit that was so brief, the price seems exorbitant. For an 8 minute visit, that works out to $20/minute. Most people feel good about making that much per hour.
- $3,966: Neurosurgeon's bill. This was a shunt placement a few weeks after birth. It was literally brain surgery that inserted a tube into the middle of my boy's head and then down his body, underneath the skin, into his abdomen. I don't remember how this one compared in time to the previous surgery on his spine. This one will probably be performed a few times in his life as these tubes frequently fail. Remember that this is just the surgeon's bill. The hospital, drugs, anesthesia, and so on are all billed separately. (My wife reminds me that the plastic shunt valve itself also cost a small fortune... and has since been recalled. Does that mean we should get a refund?) I don't know why the price of this surgery was different from the previous one. It was the same surgeon, though obviously a very different procedure. I suspect both were equally complex, but I wouldn't really know.
Would health care be different if we all knew the price up front? Would that necessarily be a good thing in every case? Would it even matter? I should note that nobody ever asked me whether we should do anything for my child. It was only a question of when, if even that. More on that in a future post.