My 5 Hours in the Hospital: $32,000

About a year ago I got whacked by a log sliding down a hill. ( Didn’t knock me out, but struck my ribs and face, knocked me to ground. I drove home. The paramedics came and decided I needed to go to the hospital, so off I went in the ambulance. I wasn’t worried about cost, since I had Medicare. They ran me through a battery of tests, including cat scans of my head, chest x-rays. I’d lucked out, nothing other than a slightly cracked rib and cuts and bruises. I was out of the hospital in about 5 hours.

I got the bill yesterday, over a year later: $32,368,35! (Medicare paid all but $300.)

Some of the major charges:

-Emergency room: $8,997

-Trauma level III: $12,420

-CT scans head: $6,733

-Ultrasound $1,041

A couple of thoughts from all this:

1. Medicare works, at least for those lucky enough to have it. It’s a program the Tea Partiers and Republicans would never have allowed through, just as they’re trying to scuttle health care for U.S. citizens.

2. Ooo-wee, are hospital costs expensive! I’m grateful for the fine quality of care, but if I didn’t have insurance, I’d hold off an all this stuff unless things were dire. (Here they weren’t.) No one said anything to me about the costs while I was in the hospital.

I saw a guy being rescued a few years ago out in the hills, he’d been lost all night. A helicopter came and when they EMT came down with the basket, the guy asked the price and when told $6,000, he said “No thanks,” and the chopper flew off.

3. The big problem right now is not in making medical care available to citizens, but the high costs of it as it stands.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

18 Responses to My 5 Hours in the Hospital: $32,000

  1. In my experience good insurance care doesn't mean good health care. Insurance is just another avenue to extract money from our pockets. In my adult life I've had hospital/doctors visits paid by everything from cash in my pocket, credit cards, State Workman's Comp (broke leg in a fall at work)and my own health care coverage. Can't say the treatment has improved in those decades but the cost sure has gone up. At the time I had my best coverage I had a tumor in my chest. It was misdiagnosed for over a year. Finally found a good doctor who probably saved my life.

    More recently my father died of cancer after years of misdiagnosis and he had excellent union insurance.

    I also believe that the cost of heathcare is largely due to the inefficiency, greed, corruption and incompetence of the insurance industry and to a lesser extent, the medical industry for the same reasons. I have a sibling and two cousins that are doctors, two of which are teaching at large Universities, and I'm sad to report that doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the art/practice of medicine. It is very lucrative for them though…

    We need to separate healthcare from health insurance in my opinion. Unfortunately politicians' interest in campaign contributions that are generated from medical/pharma/insurance industries so that ain't going to happen…

  2. Hello, I live in Denmark. On the 4th of March this year I suddenly experienced severe stomach pains. I was admitted to the community hospital two days later and spend 24 hours under intensive observation:blod tests were taken plus two ct-scans and I went back home the next day with an open admission to the ward. Same story the next week and the following week and a new series of examinations were carried out: more CT's, MR's, blodtests, ultrasound-examination of my gallbladder, coloscopi, gastroscopi. Operation for gallstone was planned the following week. And then I fell really ill. Back to hospital, blodtests, CT-scan, intravenous antibiotics etc. Operation for ileus the next day – and I was cured. All I missed was 15 cm of my intestines (plus a lot of weight). But no bill. I have paid for this over many years because I pay tax and so it is for all Danes. No one is left in a situation where he or she is unable to get or to pay for life saving treatment og any treatment for that matter. One for all and all for one.
    Love from Dorte Ipsen – Copehagen Denmark

  3. Doctors office if I pay cash: $60.00
    Doctors Office If Medicare pays: $15.00 copay + $85.00 = $100.00
    Same care so I can only believe the doctors office is scamming the system. All humans are thieves but the American medical non-system blatantly takes it to a high art.

  4. It was a great relief to get old enough for medicare. For several years I had been self employed without insurance and was very lucky not to get bankrupted from some expensive medical problem. I say single payer for all, and no insurance companies and their expensive paperwork and profits ripping US off and denying many of US benefits

  5. Delphine,

    Thanks, I read the entire article. Even though it's a couple of years old, the principles that the author describes, the over-inflation and often corrupt high costs, still hold.

  6. Lloyd,

    You are welcome that I paid part of your medical bill, through my high taxes. I have insurance for major medical, but everything else I pay cash and the cash prices are much cheaper than the insurance or medicare price.

    The reason the prices are so high is because the government have their hands in the whole mess. I worked as a paramedic for 20 years and the more the government takes over, the worse it gets. I applaud the Tea Partiers and Republicans tying to keep the government nose out of it.

    You need to get your own insurance or pay cash.

    BTW, I love your blog for the other things you post. Stay away from politic.


  7. Lloyd,

    I just love your blog and the way you write.
    And I blissfully enjoy reading your thoughts on all subjects, including politic.

    Thank you.

  8. I'm sad the way your health system works or doesn't work, depending on your point of view… Of course most of the rich don't care about the poor, or what their needs…
    There are very few caring societies in the western world but I must say in New Zealand, things are very different… Sure there may be waiting lists but the standard of health care is, mostly excellent.
    Almost 25 years ago I had heart bypass surgery performed by an excellent surgeon. It cost many thousands of dollars and just a few months ago I had hip replacement surgery that cost over $30,000.
    Neither surgery cost me a cent.
    Complain as I often do about the government's role in New Zealand. I'm very glad of its social commitment to health.

  9. That is way over the top I would say. My mom just fell and got a cut on her forehead. We were in Canada at the time so we had to pay cash. For a non-Canadian the flat rate for Emergency Room service was $545. The doctors charge separate. He billed $150 to treat the wound and give her five stitches. Glad it wasn't $32,000. The hospital has a chart on the wall for all their rates. At least you know up front what it will cost. – Margy

  10. I am on Social Security Disability. SSD agrees my health problems..bad knees…no longer allow me to work 8 hours a day. Then they tell me I am not eligible for Medicare till I have been on SSD for 2 years!! What if it was a heart condition. I have 8 more months before I am allowed to get sick. Wish me luck!

  11. Lloyd,

    I concur with Anon. – please continue to write about whatever you feel. It is *your* blog after all!

    I live in Australia and we are not quite as enlightened as the Danish seem to be re healthcare but we are a long way from what you US folks suffer through. Recent CT scan on my back cost ~AU$500 – $350 of that is covered by our Medicare. I'm more than happy to pay taxes so that I can have reasonably cheap healthcare, free schooling, reasonable roads and all of the other services required for modern 1st world life.

    Unfortunately, we also have our own selfish tea-baggers trying to follow your Republican approach of minimal government supporting the rich and damning the rest.

    The 3 Rs:
    (Take)-Responsibility for your actions

  12. The NHS over here in the UK may not be perfect but at least when we need help it doesn't involve a whacking big bill such as you guys get. My better half broke her leg about 18 months ago and I would have hated to think how much such an accident would have cost over in the US, even the 300 dollars sounds a lot of money to me.

  13. Pretty shocking numbers. I am an American living in Bangkok. About two weeks ago, I woke with terrible pain in my lower back. I went to an emergency room and they agreed with my own self-diagnosis: a kidney stone. They gave me pain killers and sent me off for a round of xrays (using contrast medium to visualize everything). They admitted me to the hospital where I spent about 36 hours in a very comfortable private room. The bill for the whole thing was just around US$1,000. And this was a very plush hospital – more like a four-star hotel. If I had gone to a different hospital (still perfectly adequate), I would have spent about US$400. Sure, you can't possibly fly to Thailand for emergency care, but if you don't have health insurance in the States and you're facing a medical bill of over, say, US$5,000 for something, I'd get on a plane and fly here. Then, when the treatment was done, I'd go spend a week on a Thai island. Let's face it: the American health care system is criminal. And Obama is on the side of the criminals. First, he went through a big song and dance to make it look like he was working to bring better and cheaper care to Americans when he was actually working to force Americans to buy corporate (ie, criminal) insurance (thank God the courts struck down the requirement for Americans to buy it). Then, he agreed to huge cuts in Social Security and Medicare under the guise of working with Republicans to avoid a default (word has it that Obama wanted bigger cuts to SS and Medicare than the Rethugs). The truth is this: Obama was told by his handlers to gut SS and Medicare. They knew they could never acheive this long-held goal under a Republican president (remember the meme: "any president who touches SS and Medicare will regret it"), so they put in a Democrat to do it. The fact is, once someone has experienced either single payer like you get in Europe, Canada or Oceania, or reasonably priced private care like you get here, you wonder how and why Americans put up with the criminal racket they call health care in the USA.

  14. Reply to Rex:

    Rex, I'm sorry to tell you, but you are badly misinformed. You said that you paid part of Lloyd's medical bill through high taxes. No, Lloyd paid that bill himself through a lifetime of contributions to Medicare. Also, if you chose to do the research, you'd see that taxes in several countries with single-payer medical care do not have higher taxes than the States (Japan and Canada being good examples). Rex, the reason you pay such high taxes if because you are supporting the Pentagon, which takes at least 60% of your tax dollar, but my guess is that you aren't upset about that. You just don't want to work as part of a community to see that everyone receives medical care. Secondly, you are completely wrong when you state that government involvement is what drives medical costs up. I mean, you've got Kiwi, Aussie and British posters above giving direct evidence that completely contradicts your claims. The governments in those countries "have their nose" all the way into the medical systems in those countries and costs are a fraction of what you pay in the States. Honestly, Rex, have you ever been to a country with a single-payer system? Please, I urge you to do some independent research, or, better, yet, travel to Canada and talk to Canadians and, maybe, just go in and get a medical checkup just to see what it's like and what it costs you. Sadly, the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh have sold you a huge bill of goods: they've convinced you to believe that government spending on good things like health care is totally wrong, while they loot your paychecks to pay for a vast military machine. It's called propaganda and brainwashing. The fact is, medical care is expensive in the States because of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, high rates of litigation and malpractice insurance and expensive private hospital companies and HMOs. The companies and the Pentagon are playing you: they've brainwashed you to hate any spending of taxes that might be good for you and your fellow man and convinced you to support any spending of taxes that is good for their bottom line (and has the side effect of killing others). As for telling Lloyd to stay out of politics, I find that odd. I mean, you go there. Moreover, politics doesn't stay out of your life. They call it taxes and they're all over your life.

  15. Oh, I'm jumping in too. The doctors don't have a scam; they charge less for out of pocket because they get it immediately with minimum paperwork and personnel involvement, and they care about their patients. Even if someone did not pay into the system for years, how many are heartless enough that we'd let them die, suffering for months? (I may not want the answer to that.) If the Teaparty and Republicans are the party of Christians, I don't see much action like that of Christ. And insurance companies are more concerned about the bottom line. When I had a major accident (car hitting me on a sidewalk and cutting off my foot), they tried to recoup their costs from my settlement. It turns out if they had made me whole, I would have had to pay them back since they used the money I gave them over the years to take a chance on me to pay. Weren't insurance companies set up to take risks? Our life expectancy is one year longer than that of someone in Cuba; that is a quite telling statistic. I'm ready for a tiny house, peaceful waters, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Thanks, Lloyd, your writings and pictures are a joy always – naomi

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