Now that I’m back in the US for a short time, I’ve been taking advantage of the glorious American health system. I say “glorious” for two reasons: It’s American (USA! USA!) and I had somehow gotten into my head that it was free.
“I have really good insurance!” I told myself, based solely on two trips to the dentist that were fully covered. If my eyelid has a rash and my allergies are bad, why shouldn’t I see the dermatologist and allergist?
So off I went. I had a rash on my eyelid for a while, likely caused by poorly cleaning my makeup brushes, so I figured I’d get it checked out. “Hmm…” the dermatologist said. “I don’t know what caused that, but here’s some cream.” I was with her a maximum of three minutes, but that’s only because we had a short “How do you like living in London?” conversation.
“What do I owe?” I asked the receptionist. “Oh, we’ll just send you a bill,” she said. So I left, figuring I just got some cream for free.
In London there are apparently no allergens, because the minute I got off the plane in northern Kentucky my eyes, throat and nose started going crazy. “I’m dying,” I would mutter every night, popping Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra to no avail. My mom suggested I see the allergist for a stronger prescription allergy pill. “Oh man, prescription?” I thought. “That sounds expensive,” not even thinking about the cost of the office visit — I have insurance!
The allergist got me in the next day and the doctor saw me for 5 minutes, including yet another “How do you like London?” conversation. He gave me two prescriptions and I was on my way. “We’ll bill you,” the receptionist said politely. And my prescription was even cheaper than the OTC stuff. Why hadn’t I gone before?!
Several weeks went by and I had forgotten about my promised bills. My eyelid was healed and I could even visit my friend with cats without sneezing or tearing up. Yeah, American healthcare!
…and then the damage arrived. First, the dermatologist bill. $88 for a two-minute “I don’t know what’s wrong with you but here’s some cream” visit. My insurance took off a little so I owed $73.62. “That can’t be right!” I said, and laid the bill on my desk and promptly forgot about it, hoping my ignoring it would somehow make it go away.
Then the allergist bill arrived. $225. $225!! For “Your allergies are bad? Let’s try Xyzal.” With my insurance it came to $177.10. I immediately called my insurance to figure out what the dealio was. She explained that I had a $250 deductible for specialists. I probably should have figured that out before I made the specialists appointments. Can the CVS or Walgreens clinic write allergy pill prescriptions? I decided to call the allergist to see if I could talk them into a lower bill. This is how the conversation went:
“Hi… I just got a bill for $225. It lists me as a new patient but I’ve been there before.”
“Sorry, if it’s been more than three years we have to process you as a new patient.”
“All I did was complain that my allergies were bad and I got a prescription. I saw the doctor for less than five minutes.”
“Sorry, you’re still a new patient.”
“I know, but why does that cost $225?!”
“Your insurance paid some of that. You only owe $177.10,” she said cheerfully, as if I was supposed to say “Oh, great! What a relief!”
“That’s still a big chunk of money for a five-minute visit.”
“I understand, but we’re a specialist,” she replied, with that same tone that should make me say “Specialist? Well why didn’t you say! How special!”
“We have payment plans to help you if you can’t pay it now,” she offered.
“Oh, I can pay it,” I said. “I just don’t want to.”
And with an awkward laugh I realized I was going to have to pay $177.10. So much for saving money on the pills.
I realize there are people with much higher medical bills and I’m fortunate that I don’t have any conditions that require major surgery or hospitalizations, but I can’t help thinking $250 for two 5-minute visits is ridiculous. I would now like to join that group of Americans who complain that our healthcare system sucks and other countries’ are better, but have no idea how to implement a better, more affordable system for our country, so we just suck it up, but complain about it on our blogs.