Realizing the Real Cost of Health Care

Many people complain about the cost of health care. “It never used to cost that much! This is ridiculous.” Really? What did it cost back in the good old days?

Let’s take a look at the rising cost of health care. Several years ago, an acute myocardial infarction, a severe heart attack, cost practically nothing. When you arrived at the hospital, the attending physician diagnosed you with a heart attack – and then you died. It was much cheaper than today where doctors give you a clot busting shot that keeps you alive long enough for them to perform an angioplasty or other surgery to save your life. And then, a week or so later, they send you home to recuperate, though you may be dealing with a big bill.

Cancer is another condition that is just outrageously expensive. In his last movie, “The Shootist,” John Wayne’s character was diagnosed with cancer by Jimmy Stewart, and he was treated for a mere one dollar. Doctor Stewart gave John Wayne a bottle of laudanum and told him that the drug would help with the pain, but a bullet to the head would be quicker. Now cancer treatment can take months, even years–and it costs much more than a dollar.

The cost of surgery after severe accidents is another area where prices, compared to a few years ago, are much higher. In the old days, ambulances, which were then station wagons with sirens, would pull you out of your crashed car, throw you in the back of the station wagon, give you a good dose of morphine, try and stop any bleeding, and then race to a hospital that’s about 45 minutes away. Now, they fly an entire trauma unit to the site of your accident and whisk you to a hospital in just a few minutes. Paramedics perform many live-saving procedures in the helicopter before you even arrive at the hospital. But even though the chopper ride saves 16% more people than otherwise possible, they are expensive! And then, the cost of the procedures they perform in the ER just to keep you alive and healthy for another 50 years is outrageous. Bleeding to death was much cheaper.

Diabetes treatment is another lifelong tough condition to deal with. Diabetes used to be a disease you lived with for a few years. You could lose a foot or a leg, or go blind, before finally dying peacefully after a brief coma. Now, with the advent of modern medicine, physicians can drag out diabetes for decades. Instead of simple amputations, diabetes care these days includes taking maintenance drugs and in-home blood sugar monitoring, which helps you to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Today, you will most likely keep your limbs and eyesight, especially if your condition remains uncomplicated. But over the years, diabetes can become expensive.

The list of modern procedures and their exorbitant costs have transformed health care, from a simple family expense paid infrequently to your family doctor to a significant financial commitment involving insurance and serious out-of-pocket expenses. These costs can continue for years and years and years . . . But can you really put a price on your life?

Claire Hunt is a freelance writer and a nurse who regularly writes for medical websites. She also blogs for where you’ll get information about reliable medical suppliers.


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