“Welcome to America General Hospital!” Alex Baia writes over at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. “Seems you have an oozing head injury there. Let’s check your insurance. Okay, quick ‘heads up’ — ha! — that your plan may not cover everything today. What’s that? You want a reasonable price quote, upfront, for our services? Sorry, let me explain a hospital to you: we give you medical care, then we charge whatever the hell we want for it. If you don’t like that, go fuck yourself and die. Honestly, there’s no telling what you’ll pay today. Maybe $700. Maybe $70,000. It’s a fun surprise! Maybe you’ll go to the ER for five minutes, get no treatment, then we’ll charge you $5,000 for an ice pack and a bandage. Then your insurance company will be like, ‘This is nuts. We’re not paying this.’ Who knows how hard you’ll get screwed? You will, in three months. Fun story: This one time we charged two parents $18,000 for some baby formula. LOL! We pull that shit all the time. Don’t like it? Don’t bring a baby, asshole. Oh, I get it: you’re used to knowing a clear price for products and services. The difference is that medicine is complicated and scary — unlike, say, flying hundreds of people in a steel tube across an ocean, or selling them a six-ounce hand-held computer that plays movies and talks to satellites. Anyway, no need to think this through rationally while you’re vulnerable, right? Your head is really gushing, ma’am. Sure we could start posting prices and discussing our costs, but then it turns into a public debate about transparency, and people get all huffy and self-righteous about $15 pills of Tylenol, $93 to turn on a single goddamned light, or $5,000 worth of sanitary gloves. We’d rather just mail you a bill later for $97,000, full of obscure medical codes you can’t understand. Oh, you like understanding things? Here, maybe this will help: Hit your head, and talk to a doctor for one minute? $2,500, you idiot. Want your pesky appendix out? That’ll probably be $33,611. Or it could be $180,000. Shrug. Don’t know. Don’t care.” “Welcome to our modern hospital where if you want to know a price you can go f**k yourself,” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder