About eight or nine years ago a colleague at the Weekly mentioned that she went to see a doctor at her HMO because of a headache. She left hours later after being given an MRI and a thorough examination for what was basically a cold. That, she said, was why health-care costs were so high. At the time, health-care insurance was just entering the policy debate radar as a national crisis. Last Friday I got a first-hand lesson on why medical costs continue to go through the roof — or actually, the stratosphere.
I'd had X-rays taken after I'd sprained an ankle while trying to negotiate some barricades surrounding downtown's federal courthouse during a bomb scare. The next day my doctor called to say I had a fracture and had to report to the emergency room for a cast. Which I did, resigned to not having any fun for the next six weeks. My examine went smoothly and quickly. Except the ER doctor said I wouldn't actually get the cast that night — they'd only put a plaster splint on and 12 hours later Orthopedics would take off the splint and put on the real cast.
I then waited an hour for an ortho tech to put on my splint. When he arrived, I persuaded my doctor into letting me leave without the splint. Why not? I was going straight home to dinner and bed — I had no plans to play soccer or practice running for a marathon. I was exercising my own private public option.
Before I left, though, I was given a pair of crutches and a supportive boot. When I showed up Saturday morning the ortho doc told me I
didn't need a cast and could just go home — I didn't even need the
boot I'd been given, let alone the splint I'd talked myself out of
getting. I offered to return the boot and crutches but was told to hold
onto them — for a rainy day, essentially.
I have no idea how much my hardware and fancy footwear cost, but I
probably ran up a pretty big bill, factoring in the time of the two
doctors, nurses and ortho tech. I have a great HMO and doctors, and I
know everyone was only looking out for me. Still, I'm sure this kind of
thing goes on a thousand times a day across the country, feeding the health-care crisis. At least I didn't have to get an MRI.