20 December, 2007

$6000 per pound

The baby bills are starting to come in. Some of them are enormous. I'm keeping a running tally, and the current cost of bringing Zachary home from the hospital: approximately six thousand dollars a pound. That's just the hospital cost... individual bills for the physicians will arrive separately, or so they told me.

Several thoughts come to mind.

First, it really doesn't matter what the bill is; a child is priceless.

Second, it's odd to incur such a huge bill for services that I didn't deliberately choose to pay. Sure, you sign a waiver and agreement for treatment and all that legalese when you check in to the hospital. Then your wife is in labor and they want to give her IV drips of drugs you've never heard of, and then she eventually requires an emergency c-section (read: major abdominal surgery), and then they whisk the baby off to the NICU because he's not breathing properly and keep him there for four days, and meanwhile, your beloved's life is saved, not once, but twice, by an attentive nurse, OB, and anesthesiologist. Nowhere in this process do you say, or even think, "hey, wait a second, what's this going to cost?"

Third, I'm thankful we are insured. It's actually rather good insurance. There are a few ways that the church takes care of our clergy, and the insurance coverage is one of them. So my out of pocket cost will be a fraction of that. A surprisingly small fraction.

But what if I wasn't insured? I guess we might have tried to deliver the baby somewhere cheaper. (But if we hadn't been at a first-class medical facility, my wife and son would have died. No kidding.) Or we would have sucked it up and paid it ourselves, which would have exhausted all our savings, and we're people who are living privileged lives. There are plenty of people in America who don't have health insurance, can't afford it, or don't qualify. Gordon wrote about this recently, with more eloquence than I have at my disposal at the moment.

No matter how you look at it, the health care system in this country needs fixing. And what irks me is that this is an election year coming up. Which means we're going to hear a lot of hot air about health care and prescription drugs for seniors (because seniors vote in large numbers), and not a whole heck of lot about addressing the difficult issues of who's going to pay for it and overhauling the system. And then the new administration will take a while to settle in, and...