The moral of the story is that a broken arm is actually an emergency, and feel free to take your kid to the emergency room.
Today, our journey ‘round the news has us revisiting the notion of health care delivery systems and their costs. We’ll be dealing with the economic principles of demand elasticity and market issues around non-transparent pricing. We’ll also hear a story about a Congressman who let his kid spend a night with an untreated broken arm because the emergency room seemed expensive.
I know. The WTF is strong today.
See, Representative Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland, MI) told a local newspaper that patients need to reevaluate their health care choices and opt for services that cost less if we want to reduce overall cost of care in the US. He demonstrated how this could be done by telling about a time his kid injured his arm and he and his wife decided to wait for their regular doctor to open in the morning, rather than heading to the emergency room. He said “Way too often, people pull out their insurance card and they say 'I don't know the difference or cost between an X-ray or an MRI or CT Scan.' I might make a little different decision if I did know (what) some of those costs were and those costs came back to me.”
It will not surprise anyone to find out that Rep. Huizenga was not a health care provider before being elected to office.
There are several problems with this thinking, and not just that he let a child spend a night in pain to save money. Rep. Huizenga is treating medical care like a normal consumer good, where you can substitute a lower cost item and get a similar outcome. Like, if you can’t afford steak, you order the chicken, because it’s cheaper. It’s all protein, so it’s all good. That’s not true of medical procedures. You need the procedure you need. You can't comparison shop for a cheaper version. If you have a broken arm, you need x-rays, bone setting, and a cast. You can't decide to go for a clinical exam and an ace bandage and expect the arm to heal right. It just doesn't work that way.
Yes, there are incredible problems with the US health care pricing systems. The relationship between insurers, providers, and patients is wildly screwed up. Bigly screwed up, even. YUUUGELY. No one knows what medical care should cost because everyone involved is trying not to pay for it, and the people providing it are throwing out numbers hoping someone will give them enough to keep the lights on in their offices.
Clearly there is a need for medical pricing reform, but it’s not the job of consumers to cut costs by shorting themselves on needed care.
The moral of the story is that a broken arm is actually an emergency, and feel free to take your kid to the emergency room. The other moral is there are no simple answers in health care and anyone peddling one is probably wrong.