Standard Malpractice

posted 03 August 2007

As some of you may remember, back in February, soon after I arrived in the US, I hurt my back and had to be admitted to the ER. Luckily, Y! provides me with full and comprehensive health insurance, so the bill -- all staggering $1700+ of it, for care that took about 2 hours -- was not my responsibility.

The billing procedure, even for somebody full insured, was immensely complicated and stressful. I had to provide my insurance details at the outset, which was impossible since I had just joined Y! and didn't have them yet. This meant I received a bill from the hospital, a separate bill from the doctors, and a notice from the hospital that as I was uninsured I was receiving a discount. In response to these I supplied my insurance details, only to have them rejected as a result of an administrative error at the insurance company, resulting in a letter from the hospital politely but clearly implying that I was attempting to defraud them, and that I had to pay the bill soon, or else. After sorting out the administrative error at the insurance company, I received a new set of insurance details and re-provided them to the hospital, which finally accepted them and paid the bulk of bill. I then received yet another bill, this time for the deductible on my insurance policy, a significantly more manageable $50. The whole process took six months.

Today, I received one final letter: a questionnaire about my recent medical claim. It politely enquired who else I would be suing about my recent accident. There was not, I should be clear, any option anywhere on the form or the accompanying website where I could specify that I didn't intend to sue anyone, and that I considered the accident entirely my own fault. I had been hurt, obviously I was going to sue someone, they just wanted to know who, apparently for statistical purposes.

This says lots of bad things about American healthcare, but really, it's also a pretty damning indictment of American society as a whole. The thing I miss most about Britain, second only to the Tube, is the blissful lack of caring about healthcare. Not the quality -- I never received any medical care in the UK, but the care I received in the US was excellent -- just the lack of headspace taken up by wondering how I would pay for things if I suddenly got very sick.