The health care cost of treating and maintaining every man, woman and child in this country has now soared past the $200-billion-a-year mark.
This comes to something in the neighborhood of $1,000 a year per person.
Naturally, not everybody needs $1,000-worth of medical care in any given year, but a lot of people do, and some need much more. The older you get, the more your medical bills are expected to rise. Medicare and other insurance plans cover 70 percent of most expenses, but you will probably be paying 30 percent. Out-of-pocket expenses for people covered by Medicare are now more than the total used to be without Medicare coverage.
According to researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the so-called "minor" medical expenses are nickel-and-diming older patients to death. Things like blood tests, X-rays and other laboratory work are rising in price much faster than some of the more basic medical items.
On top of this, according to an article by an anonymous surgeon in Medical Economics magazine, some hospitals are including extra charges for everything touched -- including the (portable) sink.
The surgeon described a minor operation that took less than 15 minutes. The patient was billed $75 for 30 minutes operating-room time. On top of this came the flood of extra charges: $9 for antiseptic cleanser and a few ounces of sterile water, $12 for operating gowns and drape sheets, $1.75 for each simple dressing pad (which the doctor says he can buy for 5 cents), $49 for being parked in the recovery room for about half an hour.
This list goes on and on and is too tedious and depressing to relate in full. Needless to say, according to the surgeon, each aspirin costs you extra and at markups that would make even the most expensive pharmacies blush. Is this an unusual case? Not at all, says the outraged physician. Many hospitals are charging these amounts and more. According to Boardroom Reports, a magazine-style newsletter for executives, "Hospitals are offering special inducements to increase admissions." Why? Because there are some 130,000 excess beds in our nation's hospitals, and it costs to maintain them.
Before you reach for a sedative or tranquilizer to calm your fear or anger over the rising costs of health care, here's a list of some things you can do to cut your own, specific costs:
Try to stay out of hospitals. Get a second opinion to see if surgery is necessary. Ask if an operation can be done in the morning so you can be released in the afternoon. Ask also if an operation or other procedure can be done in the doctor's office or some other, less costly, outpatient facility (making sure your Medicare or other insurance covers it).
If your doctor is affiliated with several hospitals, find out which one gives adequate care at the best price. Find out if you can recuperate at home or at a nursing facility instead of the hospital. Have your doctor or, better yet, someone experienced in the billing process, go over each item on the bill to make sure you get what you paid for and whether the charges were necessary.
Q. We recently moved to a new area and wanted to rent an apartment for a short term so we could figure out where we wanted to live permanently. We signed a lease for rental furniture which included a security deposit plus a waiver fee which was supposed to cover the damage insurance.
Our cat clawed the couch, and the furniture rental company kept our security deposit even though we'd paid the fee for damage insurance. Shouldn't we get some of our money back? Doesn't the insurance cover this kind of damage?
A. The 5 to 10 percent waiver (insurance) fee covers basic fire and water damage. A cat's claws don't fit into this kind of damage coverage. The deposit kept by the lease company, no doubt, went to reupholster the damaged couch. Your chances of getting money back are nil. The next time, however, you should find out ahead of time just what the waiver insurance fee covers and what the security deposit covers. By law, you're supposed to get "Truth In Leasing" information that explains all elements of the contract.
Q. I've read that business people can get income tax deductions when they buy briefcases, calculators, recorders and other things they use in their work.
I'm a widow who can't work outside my home. Why can't I get deductions for my washing machine and dryer? They help me with my housework?
A. If you were able to start a small laundry business in your home or any other small business (sewing, typing, baking), you might be able to get a tax break for some of the equipment you have. You can't get deductions for items classified as "personal living expenses."