Today, I was a victim – and I hate it when that happens. The company that owns my doctor’s office ran me around in a circle for 90 minutes, transferring me to three departments before telling me they couldn’t quote me a price for a basic exam and blood test.
As a Baby Boomer American who doesn’t get employer group health benefits, the Affordable Care Act health insurance imposed under President Obama is far too expensive for my income level.
Instead, I pay out of pocket for all my healthcare services. Unless I get a gig that pays bennies, I will pay my own way until I qualify for Medicare at age 65 which is still some years away. In medical billing terms, I am a self-pay patient. My health protection “plan” is to stay healthy and my credit card is my insurer, as I like to joke.
But this situation is no joke and I am not alone in having no healthcare coverage. In 2018, 27.5 million people in the U.S. had no health insurance, up from 25.6 million in 2017.
As a self-pay patient, with no big insurance company negotiating a lower, preferred-customer, bulk rate, I naturally want to get maximum value for my money. And, since I’m not bound by an insurance provider network, I can shop around for the best rates.
Or so I thought.
When I phoned my doctor’s office scheduler to find out how much an ordinary gynecological PAP test would cost, the wait time to speak to a human being was about 15 minutes. The first question I was asked was:
“Do you have an appointment?”
No, I explained, I do not have an appointment although I’m considering making one if the price is right. (“…And if you seem to know what you’re doing,” I thought without speaking the words.)
Evidently, no one had ever requested pricing from the young lady, a paid professional, in charge of my medical billing who was trying to help me.
“I’m a self-pay.”
Light dawned in Aurora, as it were, and the young lady directed my call to the Billing Department. That sounded hopeful.
My hopes were dashed when, after explaining what I wanted a second time, the young lady who was trying to help me explained that I needed to talk to someone in the Billing Transparency department.
The Orwellian sound of that name produced a cynical response in me. I asked for a straight-up price (or even a price range) for a self-pay without an appointment to get a PAP smear. The “helpful” female said I was talking to the wrong person and shunted me to another 20-minute hold before I could say anything.
As I listened to the pre-recorded looping ads touting how great my healthcare provider company is, over and over, I loaded the dishwasher, checked my email, and puttered around a bit. Just as I was about to hang up, yet another female answered the phone.
Lo and behold, I was back at my doctor’s office. At that point, Dear Readers, I must confess that I lost my cool a bit. I had been patient and uber polite. But this was too much.
I had been connected to a different female voice who explained that she was unable to look up any rates and I was basically out of luck.
All of this nonsensical run-around took an hour and a half of my precious time and attention.
Because I am a self-pay, I then exercised my freedom to vote with my wallet. Since my doctor’s corporate overlords won’t reveal the cost of my care in advance, yet make me sign a contract to pay whatever they charge before I get any treatment at all, they won’t get any of my gynecological money. Planned Parenthood will.
Planned Parenthood has specialized in family planning and women’s health care since I was a young lady myself. This organization is currently embroiled in political controversy but I stand by its commitment to my good health as a post-pubescent woman.
I phoned the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic and, within a few pleasant minutes, got the exact rate my doctor’s office corporate system refused to provide. Furthermore, all customer payments come from a sliding scale based on income. How smart is that? I booked the next available appointment less than a week away: fast and easy. That’s all I wanted in the first place before I wasted part of my life trying to get a transparent rate from my primary physician.
As far as I’m concerned, my body is my physiological vehicle and I want up to three estimates to get the best deal as well as the assurance that the folks performing the service are clueful rather than clueless. After all, my personal wellness is at stake.
Let me ask you this: Would you put your car in the shop with a broken radiator without finding out how much the repair parts and labor cost? Do you buy any major appliance without shopping around?
There is absolutely no reason on this green earth why We the People can’t have free-market healthcare. Get rid of the insurance companies and make health providers compete on merit and affordability.