Friday, March 7, 2014

March Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 7 of 31 / Healthcare


"Looks like another bill came from the hospital," announced my husband as he came up the stairs from work. 
I had seen the envelope, and had left it at the bottom of the stairs with the rest of the unopened mail. The same sinking in my gut that appeared the moment I saw it now reappeared with this announcement. 
"I guess you should open it," I said. 
I watched my husband's face for clues as he tore the paper. A grimace. "Looks like it's for a bit more than we were guessing," he said. 
The bill is for $4,047.58. We have already paid over three thousand dollars for the birth of our son, and we have yet to have any indication how many bills are still forthcoming. 

After several calls with the hospital and my health insurance company, I have eked out a bare-bones understanding of the situation. Among the pieces of information I think I understand: 
The hospital has sent many bills to my insurance company, some of which contain overlapping claims
We have an out-of-pocket maximum of $3700 on our policy, but this maximum is per person. My son of course counts as a person. So many of the charges were billed to him, making us responsible for another $3700 out of pocket. 
The hospital charged $6200 for his two night nursery-stay. Kind of hilarious considering he was with me much of those $3100 nights. "Speech therapy" cost nearly $800, and entailed a brief hearing test. 
It is not the hospital's policy to provide an itemized bill explaining our other charges. 
There is another piece of information I understand. We lived in Australia for a brief time, and there we purchased private health insurance because we were not citizens and so not eligible for the national healthcare plan. Our plans cost about $150 per person per month, we signed up for them in minutes at the local mall, and they covered everything. Yes, everything. 

I am certain that no healthcare system is without its flaws. I cannot even begin to pretend I understand the complicated debates raging around Obamacare. I'm not intending to get political. What I am, however, is attempting to write about strong emotions, one of the places we teach student writers to look for stories. And now, at this moment, after hanging up with the fourth in a series of long, confusing phone calls, what I feel is anger. And shock that the citizens of a country with so much wealth and so many resources, citizens with private health insurance, could have to pay over $7,000 for a normal, healthy childbirth. I also feel gratitude that my husband and I are able to pay this bill, and concern for others less fortunate. 

What the ending of this story will be I have yet to find out. Though I am hoping for a happy ending, I feel fairly certain that the ending will entail more phone calls, more confusion, and ultimately resignation. But I do take solace in that in at least one part of the story, there is the happiest ending of all--my son was born, healthy and perfect. I hope that when his children are born, his concern will be starting their college funds, not declaring bankruptcy because of their births. 


  1. Way to stay positive during such adverse circumstances. I applaud your gusto and persistence as you continue to tackle this problem. Your voice really came through in your writing, so much so, that I would be ready to fight the fight with you. Good luck with your continued battle. Thanks for sharing.
    Colleen Shuler

  2. I hope that all turns out well for you. I can relate to the that sinking feeling you speak of with relation to hospital bills having had some insurance/hospital/etc. issues myself over the years. It is one of the most frustrating things. Best of luck, and fight on! Don't give up!

  3. I am right there with you, Anna. It's crazy. I cannot tell you how many times, through sheer perseverance my husband has figured out that the bills were actually wrong, or that the insurance company was mistaken--like thousands of dollars mistaken. I keep thinking, if my husband and I cannot understand all this and figure out, and there are all these mistakes being made, then what about families for whom English isn't their first language, or folks who have difficulty reading, or doing math, or have an illness that makes calling on the phone repeatedly just not an option… Arrgh.