Just when I thought the health care debate was dead and buried, last week U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson announced he would hear argument in a lawsuit brought on by a coalition of states seeking to block the recently passed health care overhaul.  And just when I thought I had no new thoughts regarding the subject, a conspiracy of circumstances conspired to prove me wrong. First, while having coffee with several moms from my kids’ school, someone shared her experience of having a baby in England. Under their nationalized health care system, so said the above mentioned mother, patients are expected to provide many items that we take for granted on this side of the big pond—diapers, towels, and feminine products, none of which are supplied by the hospital. She even told the story of her infant daughter having blood drawn and the nurse turning to her and demanding cotton wool (that’s a cotton ball to us Yanks but it sounds so much more dignified to say cotton wool) in order to stop the bleeding.

After recovering from my initial shock, I realized that I had cotton wool pulled over my eyes if I thought for one moment the hospitals States-side were “giving” me anything! Sure, the nurse is only too willing to bandage my bundle-of-joy’s wee foot with a cotton ball, after which the hospital files a claim with my insurance company charging $20 for “a sterilized blood-absorbing sphere.” This realization occurred, in part as I visited my own medical professional the next morning. I have been having knee pain for a while now and after she listened to my symptoms, my doctor immediately ordered blood work, x-rays, the whole nine yards. Holding the sterilized blood-absorbing sphere to the needle prick in my arm, I realized I had no idea how much any of this was costing. I am the woman who holds war room strategy meetings over how to visit Olive Garden as a family without blowing our entire budget in one meal. I coupon and bargain hunt and yet here I was going through a battery of, what I assumed to be, very expensive tests with no concept of the final price tag.

That’s when it hit me: the problem with health care is me; at least in part, that is. Sure there is need for tort reform, limits to malpractice settlements and Medicare fraud. But that certainly doesn’t negate my own responsibility to be a wise consumer of medical treatment in the same way I try to be in all other areas of my spending. When our kids need braces in a few years, Jim and I fully intend to shop around. Why? Because we are the ones paying for it. Not in some obscure way of filing claims and benefit packages nor through paying taxes and then having the government act as our middle man, but in the hey-let-me-reach-into-my-pocket-and-pull-out-the-money-we-were-saving-for-vaction-and-have-you-put-it-on-my-kid’s-teeth-instead way. I don’t recall ever walking into the grocery store and handing all my money to some third party, giving them my list, and assuming they would buy what we needed at a good price. So why on earth do I do it with healthcare and why in the name of all that is holy would I want to let the government take over that role?

Perhaps the time is coming when I won’t have any choice in the matter, but I believe that if that time is coming it is, in part, because I abdicated the responsibility of choice long ago. Perhaps it is too late to make a difference, but I now have fantasies of entering my doctor’s office armed with a new sense of empowerment and duty to question. I will figure out what counts toward deductible and which number I am supposed to call on my insurance card.  And I will definitely bring my own cotton wool.

4 Responses to “Pulling the Cotton Wool Over My Eyes”

  1. Andrew


    Great thoughts, Amy. We’ve gone through the deliveries of two babies on two different insurance plans. The first covered virtually all of our costs; the second required significantly more payment from us. As you can imagine, we paid much greater attention to expenses during the second go-round!

    Perhaps the biggest surprise during the second pregnancy and delivery was that most of the nurses and doctors have absolutely no idea what their services, tests, and such cost. On the surface this is rather disconcerting, but I don’t think it’s the fault of the docs or hospitals – it’s a consequence of the current system. It appears that the answer to “how much is this?” is nearly always “it depends…” For one insurer, the cost is X. For another plan, the cost is 2X. For the uninsured, the cost is always the largest amount that the doctor/hospital charges any insurance company.

    Yikes. Changes are certainly needed in the health care arena…I just don’t think that they’re the ones being imposed from Washington.

  2. Devon Trevarrow Flaherty


    Just as a minor correction to Andrew’s comment, when you are uninsured, at least here in North Carolina, you often get a reduced rate. (Which begs the question: why would they be charging an insurance company more? Maybe they are just being nice? ;))

  3. Amy


    I have heard that insurance causes so many headaches and requires so much more paperwork and man hours, doctors are happy to reduce the rates in order to not have to deal with it.

    • Laura Schmidt


      When I worked in a doctor’s office, I could see the “reduced rate” cash customers paid alongside the negotiated rates for customers insured with various plans. The cash customers got the reduced rate if they paid in full – but those reduced rates are still quite a bit higher than the rate your insurance company is getting for you.


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