News and Tribune

March 18, 2013

CUMMINS: Our nation should see a doctor

Local columnist

— The longer we live, the more time we spend our waking hours waiting for something big to happen. No, it’s not death, but life prolonged by medical procedures administered as we seep into the twilight. If it’s a bright day, but looks like dawn to us, then we wait for an oculist to part the clouds inside our retinas. If our heart or bladder flare up, we wait to see a doctor and then specialists who scan us inside and out. The results go inside a computer, which prints out our future. I watch my doctor’s face as he reads it, which predicts life or death for me. If he frowns, it means he will discontinue collecting fees, but if he smiles, the burden falls on Medicare.

If terrorism, socialism or climate change doesn’t take our country down, the inflated health care system will. One problem is that as people live longer due to improved health care, there’s many more of us waiting for multiple procedures to keep us breathing. My wife recently waited eight hours in an emergency room, which cost $4,380 to send her home. I had two valves repaired for $163,000. The government and insurance prevented the administering of my last rites —“His spirit and body weren’t broken, but his mind was as politics finally got to him.”   

Back a few years ago, people died naturally of “old age.” Families kept old folks in the home, administered home remedies and asked God to help. Sassafras tea thinned the blood, cough syrup and salve opened passages and hot whiskey toddies relieved severe pain. Coal, cod or castor oil cured other disorders. When my old aunt Lina felt poorly, she’d take a big swig of “Hadacol,” a tonic that worked wonders for her. It contained secret ingredients mixed with about one-third alcohol.

The government and insurance didn’t help you back then, but the “non-profit” hospital does everything for you now. Most hospitals don’t make a profit, but the people inside them do. It’s simple, they charge whatever they want to. 

“Bitter Pill — Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” by Steve Brill is a recent and lengthy feature article in “Time,” magazine, which explains why we all might die sooner than we should. Maybe not, but our nation might crumble like Greece and Rome did if health care costs continue exploding.  Brill spent seven months thoroughly examining our health care system. He cited many cases including 64-year-old Janice S., who felt chest pains. The $900 ambulance roared to the $17,000 emergency room to see the $3,000 doctor. The good news, she had indigestion; the bad news, it cost her $21,000. Emilia G., a 66-year-old school bus driver, fell and blood oozed from her nose. She rushed to the emergency room for tests, scans and a 15-minute examination. Three CT scans cost $6,538. Medicare would have paid $825 for all three. The good news, a hairline fracture of her nose. The bad news, her nose cost her $9,418, which she’s paying off at $25 per week. 

 Get a serious illness and you’ll need gold bullion. Brill cited Steve H., who had a severe back problem. A one-day outpatient stay cost him $89,000. He was charged $308 for four boxes of sterile gauze pads, but the big-ticket item was a $49,237 Medtronic stimulator implanted in his back. 

Although our health care, not the system, is outstanding in many respects, the “non-profit” hospitals rake in millions. It’s capitalism at its finest with a little politics thrown in. Congress knows what is best for you, because “health” lobbyists buy, I mean, guide them. Brill cites the Center for Responsive Politics, which revealed that the pharmaceutical and health-care-product industries combined with other health services spent $5.36 billion on lobbying in Washington since 1998. It’s more than double what the military-industrial complex and oil companies contributed. 

Essentially, the non-profit profits stem from what’s called the “chargemaster.” Brill couldn’t locate the chargemaster, but, apparently he’s hiding somewhere jacking up a Niacin tablet to $24 whereas a drug store sells them for a nickel. Where do the profits go? To the hospital administrators, pharmaceutical companies and the medical equipment industry. Brill found that Montefiore Medical Center in New York paid its four top administrators over a combined $11 million last year. 

Paying for health care is like picking a Pope in that smoke is involved. White smoke indicates a brand  new one. Pay a medical bill and the black smoke steaming out your nose will eventually choke you. 


— Contact Terry Cummins at