Absurd Medical Bills Highlight The Problem With Health Care In America

by Caila Smith
Originally Published: 
Marcelo Leal/Unsplash and Jennifer Gunter/Twitter

The United States of America… Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. Or, should we change those words to Land of the Medically-Vulnerable and Home to the Debt-Ridden?

You see, America is the only developed country adding insult to injury (no pun intended) among those who are medically-needy and desperate for proper, affordable healthcare. We charge more for medical services than any other nation. Yet, our mortality rates with such “exceptional” care is (comparatively) through the roof.

For North Carolina mother Ashley, her debt began after her daughter died from SIDS. Due to her daughter’s untimely and tragic death, Ashley developed PTSD and depression as a direct result. Now, her husband is working two jobs (living away from the family five days a week) so the family can afford $1,200 worth of medicine, for one prescription, each month.

“Due to the cost of [my] medication, I’m unable to even attempt to get therapy. It boggles my mind that medication that keeps me alive (suicidal ideation) costs almost twice as much as my mortgage,” she tells Scary Mommy. “We’ve had to cut everything extra out of our lives entirely to afford ONE medication. My insurance doesn’t cover it. We’ve drained our savings account and maxed our credit cards. I had to essentially force my child into potty-training just to get some extra cash to pay for the meds.”

And as horrifying as this is, it’s important to note that Ashley is merely one of millions trying to make ends meet in order to afford a needed medication. Consider the over 100 million American adults who are living with diabetes and pre-diabetes, for example. Their dire need for insulin is not optional. They cannot survive without it.

Mother of four, Rachel Garlinghouse, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 2006. Since then, she has been paying upwards of $1,000 per month on insulin alone. “Living with type 1 diabetes means that without insulin, I would die. It’s not an option to take the meds or not, delay or ‘spread out’ medication,” she tells Scary Mommy.

And as Garlinghouse states, there is little to no mercy for diabetics who struggle with the disease’s high cost. In January 2019, she was charged $1,500 for one-fifth of her type 1 diabetes medical supplies. If she didn’t have the $1,500 then, she would not have been given what was needed.

“The pharmacy won’t hand over my insulin to me without full payment. My diabetes supply companies won’t ship me supplies without full payment,” she says. “And these payments can be as high as a monthly car payment or even a mortgage — and this is with insurance — which we also pay a lot of money for.”

Imagine you are running through the desert and happen to run into a malnourished, parched and near-death individual, maybe even a child. Your canteens are full, and you are sustained. But instead of giving someone the water which they need, at little cost to you, you hold it over their head and charge outrageous amounts because that person is not in a position to negotiate.

This is the likeness and severity of exorbitant healthcare prices, and the medical industry is drawing mega-profits from it. But without insulin, Garlinghouse and many other diabetic individuals would die in a matter of a few days.

Insulin rationing has become a colossal problem for Americans who want to be healthy but cannot afford it. In June 2019, three Americans in their 20s died from not being able to afford, and having to ration, their insulin. These deaths were preventable. But these young people were unfairly forced to choose between two worlds: buy the insulin, or pay the bills.

It shouldn’t be like this. In a country that considers itself one of the world’s powerhouses, we shouldn’t have people thrown into a horrifying game of Russian Roulette for diseases with expenses that are beyond their control.

Amber Feltner’s late husband, Mike Feltner, was forced to ration his insulin every month for eight years. Of the last five years of her husband’s life, Feltner says, “He was taking 175 pills a week and taking about 42-50 shots in a week. There were times when his insurance wasn’t covering as much as he needed and we couldn’t afford the straight cost so he would skip a shot or only do partial shots until he could renew the month to get a full vial of insulin.”

Because his sugar wasn’t controlled, her husband developed diabetic retinopathy, causing him to go almost completely blind in both of his eyes. Later, he developed diabetic neuropathy and could not feel his feet. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with renal failure and would go on to suffer 12 strokes at once before being given a diagnosis of congestive heart failure in 2017.

After a drawn out and well-fought fight, Mike Feltner lost his medical battle while holding his wife’s hand and surrounded by many loved ones in January 2018. But because of his hospital stays, specialist physician visits and long-lists of medications, his wife was left in an almost-six-figure medical debt after his death, which ultimately led her to file bankruptcy to save her family.

“I couldn’t work to just [pay medical bills]. I had my children to think of,” Feltner explains to Scary Mommy.

This practice of billing grieving families outrageous amounts and expecting them to be able to pay the costs out of pocket is absurd. People don’t ask for sickness. They don’t ask for death. And they sure as heck do not ask for such a lack of compassion from America’s healthcare and insurance companies.

Just recently, Bernie Sanders asked the people what their most outrageous medical bill was. Among many responses, Dr. Jennifer Gunter replied, “$600 for my son who lived about 3 minutes. He received no medical care. At all. As he died almost immediately he didn’t get enrolled in my insurance plan, so I got the bill. From the hospital where I was a doctor.”

There is absolutely no reason that a bereaved mother, a member of the hospital at that, should be charged hundreds of dollars for, literally, nothing. These insurance policy loopholes are a sickening way for companies to save a buck and hospitals to gain one.

In a recent Facebook post, one mother received a bill from her child’s birth and realized she was charged $39.35 for skin-to-skin after her C-section. Skin-to-skin is costing mothers nearly $40… for simply placing a newborn on a mother’s chest. Something absolutely anybody could do.

America’s healthcare should match that of other developed countries, but it doesn’t. We are the land of opportunity, but only for those who are not medically frail. This freedom comes with stipulations, and those who find themselves medically oppressed are this country’s profit.

We need to wake up, demand change, and fight for the people… all the people.

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