My $2,374 cut-thumb emergency room bill

A few weeks back, I wrote about the surprisingly speedy service I received at John Muir Medical Center’s emergency room. This was on a Sunday evening after I went in for a thumb I sliced with a potato peeler. The bleeding wouldn’t stop after several hours, so I figured I had to go to the emergency room to have a doctor look at it. 
I feared that a cut thumb would be very low on the emergency department’s priority list, and that I’d end up sitting in the waiting room for hours.  Instead, I was seen right away. My wound was cleaned out, I received a bandage, and I was out of the hospital in an hour. I’ve since learned that John Muir, yes, has instituted a new system for managing the flow of its patients in its emergency room. It identifies easy to treat patients, like I was that night, and gets them into an exam room as quickly as possible, to be seen, treated, and discharged. This system helps keeps the emergency room from backing up and lets the staff focus on more serious cases.
The bill came, and I was curious, to say the least, that the total bill is for $2,374. For an hour’s service. Wow!
I’m not freaking out about it because my private health insurance covers all of that amount, except for the $100 co-pay that I paid at the time of treatment. My initial thought upon receive this bill: My health insurance damn well better cover this ER visit.

That’s because for the past year or so, my family and I have been picking up a huge share of my employer-provided Health Net medical coverage–to the tune of $1,400 a month. We chose this somewhat more costly Health Net route because we wanted to maintain continuity of coverage for my husband who has a chronic health condition.

With these kinds of ER costs, I can imagine the person who would be reluctant to go in for something like a cut thumb–or even something more serioius–if they had to pay much higher out-of-pocket costs.
Of course, the health care reform bill was just signed last month. I know I should be more of a health care policy wonk. If I were, I might understand how the health care overhaul might reduce this kind of cost for an emergency room visit–to my insurance company or to me.

According to, the health care reform is supposed to make health care “affordable and accessible for everyone.” The argument is that by expanding health insurance to all Americans, “and creating caps on the health care expenses that people pay out of pocket, health insurance reform will make health care affordable to everyone.  … Premiums are high, in part, because of the ‘hidden insurance tax’ of more than $1,000 for unpaid costs of care of the uninsured.”

If any health care policy wonks–pro and con–want to chime in. If you have suggestions of anyone to bug, who might be able to tell me whether health care reform will reduced the costs of a cut-thumb visit, please let me know.

57 thoughts on “My $2,374 cut-thumb emergency room bill

  1. We are 37th because of the distribution of medical care not because of quality or access. The WHO is judging what they deem too be fair “distribution” of health care! At the very least, it’s subjective.

    Some of you are ill- informed in regard to the countries being touted with national health system that you think is free. They pay taxes for that, make no mistake.

    The US effectively serves 308 million Americans and does spend the most money on health care.

    The UK, Canada, Germany and others serve populations considerably smaller than ours. Do you even have a clue?
    Yes, the U.S. does spend more money on health care than any other nation. But the WHO is not comparing like systems, number one. It compares free market or privatized systems to socialistic ones. Population deviances are not considered. The population of Canada is 33.2 million, Germany, 82.3 million, UK is 60 million and let’s not forget Sweden, Norway respectively at 9 and 4.7 million.

    All of those populations are considerably smaller and apparently have trouble with quality of care and access. You've read the horror stories, do you think people are lying?

    In other countries access is pitiful, as is quality of care. Ask yourself why people come here for surgeries or treatments if where they live has such a wunderbar system? Canada made it impossible for private practice outside of the social system. It drove docs to other countries, but of late it has changed. Now, the best doctors practice privately making them accessible to those who can afford the cost, the rich. The government care is left with the remainder and by it’s own emission on the brink of failure.

    Daniel Castonguay, the original architect of Canada’s system has himself said, ” “We thought we could resolve the system's problems by RATIONING SERVICES or INJECTING MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF MONEY into it. We are proposing to give a greater role to the private sector so that people can exercise freedom of choice.”
    A single payer system will not work more efficiently than we have now UNLESS they ration care. Then quality and access inevitably drop. And doctors will leave the profession in droves if they are not paid what they are worth.


  2. Nee — First I disagree with you. The WHO study is not only based on fair distribution of health care. As a matter of fact it compares five different indicators:

    “WHO's assessment system was based on five indicators: overall level of population health; health inequalities (or disparities) within the population; overall level of health system responsiveness (a combination of patient satisfaction and how well the system acts); distribution of responsiveness within the population (how well people of varying economic status find that they are served by the health system); and the distribution of the health system's financial burden within the population (who pays the costs).”

    But second I would agree that none of these comparisons are all that helpful. Comparing health care across different nations is comparing apples and oranges.

    Thirdly the argument that some wealthy politicians travel to the USA for special procedure is meaningless. Only a fool would claim that it is not true that some of the best medical facilities are located in this country. But the fact that some of the best medical facilities are in the US is not indicative of the overall health care system in the USA in the sense that for example luxury resorts in third world countries are not indicative of living conditions in these countries either.

    Why not look at the current system? Can you really say this is the best system anybody can think of? Do you simply not believe that a large percentage of bankruptcy filings are due to medical bills? Do you not believe that many Americans out of a job or self employed can't get medical insurance due to pre-existing conditions? Don't you think that system needed to be reformed?

    I know that you feel that reform might result in a drop of quality. I don't share this fear with you. Wasn't Medicare a major reform for the retired people (which of course by definition do make up a very substantial part of the patient population)? I didn't see that Medicare resulted in a drop of quality and access and let to rationing.

    So, as a conservative where were your suggestions on how to reform the system? All I saw was criticism but no ideas.


  3. Nee- How do you not see how flawed your thinking is?
    Others pay taxes for their health systems, but it is still half of our cost. You said Germany, well they like other countries have private insurance companies but they are regulated to not profit on the sick and dying.
    Find me one Canadian that would give up their system for ours, being from BC I do not know of any.


  4. 9:09 that is your best argument why we should give you the keys to the Congress in 2010 and to the White House in 2012?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s