Medical Costs In The US: Outrageous Or Justifiable?

medical costsMedical costs in the US are high! Anybody who has recently made a trip to the ER, been hospitalized, or even had some routine medical tests done, will agree.

The question is, are high US medical costs simply out of control or are they justifiable?

A friend who recently visited us from South Africa (i.e. no US health insurance) got sick on a Saturday evening. All of the symptoms pointed to the possibility of meningitis.

After a quick call to our family physician, we took off to the ER of a newly-built hospital not too far from where we live.

Upon arrival at 8 p.m., the ER staff immediately tended to our guest and provided all of us with masks just in case it was meningitis. Our guest was put in a room in the ER. Some blood tests and a CT scan were done. Our guest was also put on a drip to provide liquids and given some pain medication.

In total, the attending physician spent maybe 20 minutes with the patient, and the nurse spent maybe an hour, if that long. In the end, with long periods of waiting alone in the room, we were sent home at about 1 a.m. with a prescription for some medication. Luckily, no meningitis.

The service was excellent, but then came the bills. The cost of this little excursion to the ER… a little over $8,000.

A Comparison of Medical Costs

Earlier this week, a family member of ours fainted and was taken to the ER of a private hospital in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Some blood tests, an EKG and a CT scan were done. Everything was found to be in good order, but to be safe, it was decided to take our family member up into the High Care unit of the hospital for the night.

All went well and the patient was sent home the next morning.

By all accounts, this hospital also provided excellent care. The cost for the ER care and a night in High Care? R14,000 or a little over $1,500 at the current exchange rate.

That is less than 20% of the cost of our trip to the ER here in the US!

US Medical Costs: Outrageous or Justifiable?

Before this second ER incident with our family member took place, I looked at the $8,000 bill for the first ER incident and simply could not see where $8,000 in value comes from.

$8,000 provides housing for a family for many months. It can buy a used vehicle that can be driven for a few years. It can buy food for a family of four for at least a year. How is it possible that 5 hours in an ER, with not much more than basic care provided, can cost $8,000?

After the second ER incident took place, it confirmed in my mind exactly how outrageous the cost of medical care in the US can be.

As our politicians like to remind us prior to each election, our medical care system is broken. It is not that the service is bad, but rather that the medical costs to patients are out of control.

I am not convinced that simply forcing everybody to have medical insurance is the solution. The crazy high medical costs will simply find its way back into the pockets of the American people in the form of high insurance premiums.

What Do You Think?

So what do you think about medical costs in the US? Is it outrageously high or can it be justified? Take our poll below and leave a comment…

What do you think of US medical costs?

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  • My daughter needed a trip to the ER on December 23rd. 2 days and 1 night. MRI and spinal tap. A drip with anti nausea at dell children's. We are on $60,000. Is that representative? No. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the peace of mind that came with the MRI, but there is a disconnect between the dollar value and the delivered service. If you have US insurance they are dealing in the same disconnected currency, but when you have a guest from abroad needing treatment, they must pay the exorbitant amount without the advantage of healthcare kickbacks or whatever is inflating the numbers. It is bizarre.

    • Barry, that is frightening! That is more than the annual salary of a lot of people! As you say, you appreciate the service, and most fair people wouldn't mind paying fair value for such service, but $60,000 or a whole year's salary? That is nuts! It is no wonder that such a large percentage of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to medical reasons.

  • I had to take my daughter to the ER last year – it was s Sunday evening and she had a very high temp that we could not break. By the time I thought I needed some help all the walk in centres were closed and so the ER was the best option. We were there for 40 mins. Nurse checked us in, took temp etc. Dr spent less than 5 mins with us. Nurse came and did a strep test. Results positive, prescription given and out we went. $2k. The doc wanted to do all sorts of tests and put her on a drip. Luckily I said not to unless the strp test was neg…otherwise who knows what the price would have been. We had insurance, so all I had to pay was $250.

  • Hello all SA pats.
    Let me tell of our experience with the Med. Profession here in USA. I suffer with nasal polyps and we went to the Cleveland Clinic to have them check and possibly remove the polyps. They did a check and said they need to come out. We were sent to the person handling the payments, ecause nothing gets done unless you pay up-front. He worked the costs out for the op. and it came to $32,000. (approx. R227,000)
    Naturally we couldn't afford that, as we had no Insurance. We chose to go back to SA and have it done there. I went to a Private Clinic in Bloemfontein, which was organized by a doctor friend of ours. I had a Specialist do the op and I stayed overnight and it cost us,.. 2 air-tickets, the operation, and 1 weeks holiday with our family, totalling $6,000. (approx. R42,600This was in 2010 . So really, the medical costs are way too high here. Jenetta Venish ex Cape Town.

  • As an American, the quality of American health is way out of proportion to the rest of the world. Having a doctor in my family, the reality of the wealth generated for services provided is way out of whack…always has been.

    The problem is that here in the United States, we allow a Congressional Lobby who are employed by the Health Industry to allocate money to elected representatives for their campaign to get elected or re-elected. The amounts allocated are staggering no matter what currency you use to define it. Once accepted then is it expected that at the opportune time the elected official will remember who helped put them in office and vote accordingly. This in a nut shell is why out Health Care is costly. There is no one who is accountable for the vast amounts put into campaign contributions.

    Our problem is that the those who collect the campaign contributions are the same people who make the laws regarding those contributions, and the same ones who need the contributions to stay in office.

    Will Obama care hinder or help? I do not know…….I personally have excellent healthcare. But millions don’t. Without getting into deep water concerning socialized health care, etc. let me just say that in an industrialized nation such as the United States, I find it appalling that people are without healthcare and can’t afford it.

    But being a realist, I realize that anyone who cannot pay is treated in the United States for Trauma care, this is a law. Who picks up the tab when the poor go to the emergency room…….we all do. Which is recouped by the hospitals and healthcare industry in the form of just spreading the cost to those who have heath care.

    The health care carnival, will eventually reach a point to where no one can afford it and only then will we see any real change. Perhaps we are there, but the opposition to socialized medicine (Obama care) in the United States is deep and it will take an enormous change in American collective thought about what should be done.

    Hopefully we are there, but in reality I think there is a disconnect between those who have good health care and those who don’t. The people who could change this fact are our elected Senators and Congressmen, who by the way have the best health care our tax dollars can buy. Just an American who is as fed up with it all as everyone else.

  • I would not go to the states without medical insurance and something that pays upfront . that is a lot of money to be paying . I live in the UK and i can tell you that the NHS here works very well , I have had to go to hospital a number of times and everytime it has been very good and at no charge …

    I am sure that the majority of american cannot really afford this treatmet- it just seems ridiculously high

  • The industry defends the price on the grounds that it’s cheaper than a $500,000 liver transplant. But most people with untreated Hepatitis C never need a transplant; even after 20 years, the savings from not having to treat the disease’s worst effects would offset only about 75 percent of Sovaldi’s up-front costs, research suggests. Meanwhile, it would add $600 per person to the annual cost of a group health plan.

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