ONE HOT TUESDAY EVENING IN APRIL 2010, I WENT ON A FIVE-MILE TRAINING RUN with my local running group. My assignment was an average pace of around 7:30 per mile, a challenging effort for me at the time. But I was training for my first half marathon and needed to build up my stamina. I got it done, gasping and sweating buckets at the end, as the return leg was mainly uphill.
Back at the running store, rehydrating and chatting, I suddenly got a bit woozy and felt some pain in my chest. Not sharp or strong, but persistent. Runners do not fool around with such things, and someone quickly drove me to the urgent care center. An EKG found nothing obvious, but I was referred to U-M Hospital for further tests. After Q&A sessions with several more nurses and doctors, blood work, an uncomfortable night with an IV stuck in me, and a chest X-ray and a stress test the next day, they found nothing wrong and let me go home.
The bills for my night and day in the hospital totaled over $10,000, or $2,000 per mile I ran. If I hadn’t declined the offered ambulance ride, it would have been even higher. I was fortunate; my health insurance covered most of it, and the rest was reimbursed through my company’s cafeteria plan. So the only “cost” to me was the inconvenience. In fact, I could argue I came out ahead, reassured there were no physical issues to keep me from running that half marathon, and beyond.
But many people are not so fortunate. A recent Time magazine article, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” reveals that in many cases, hospitals charge far more to individuals paying out of pocket than they receive from Medicare for identical supplies, medicines, and services. I will reserve my reporting of the statistics to a brief chart, as you can read the article for the eye-popping details.
Also according to the Time article, the U.S. is currently spending 20 percent of GDP on healthcare. In other words, out of every $5.00 our economy generates, $1.00 is being spent on healthcare-related expenses. Americans spend far more per capita on healthcare than citizens of any other nation, and yet our system isn’t measurably better. It’s pretty clear to me that price reform is urgently needed, especially for people who can’t afford comprehensive insurance. Those with the fewest resources end up paying the most, unless you count those with no money at all who the system must treat for free.
As for what actually caused my problem that night, I got a strong clue that June after running the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon. While cooling down I felt pain in my chest again, but this time it was in two places. I pulled up my shirt. My nipples were chafed and bleeding slightly from the rubbing of my synthetic shirt on them for 13 miles. A little Internet research revealed that this is a fairly common problem. Had I but known! I could have saved a lot of insurance money and highly trained people’s time with two strategically placed pieces of tape.
I thought that would be the end of it, but there was more to come, based on something else that happened at the hospital that night. And therein lies a cautionary tale for everyone. Next time – the rest of the story.