here we go again

My thoughts of life in Virginia have been so idyllic, I think it's good for me to be shaken a little by Heather's absence soon after we visit there. I've also been shaken recently by another run-in with medical establishment. It didn't turn out to be anything serious, but the emergency room bills totaled over $2200. Incredible.

Of course I've been through all this before, two years ago. (See these entries from 2004: June 21, July 10, August 7, and August 31.) Two bills are still unpaid from then, but I've been very up-front with the collections people and they haven't bothered me at all. And having made some decisions after my last experience, this time before checking in I told the hospital that I didn't have insurance and couldn't pay them (and therefore I didn't sign the waiver and patient responsibilties statement). So I was frustrated that I had to go through this again, but not too worried.

Then I did a little research and found this Wall Street Journal article. It tells about very aggressive collections tactics by hospitals, including suits and summons (and jail for those who don't show up at court) and focuses on the two hospitals in this city. My new bill is from one of them. That gave me pause.

The article says that the hospital I went to has made changes because of that report. And I am cooperating with their financial representatives. So I'm not really worried about getting in serious trouble, and they may even be more generous with their financial aid because of the WSJ scrutiny.

But this has made me very aware that this is more than an inconvenience. Incredibly high health care costs and the large number of uninsured people (who get charged more than the insurance companies) is a serious problem. Especially for poor people. I need to pay more attention and be willing to speak up against the problem, even in court if necessary.

Right now I'm trying to find a way to make gifts to the hospital and doctors, according to what I feel is fair, without being pressured by the huge bills. I'll let the financial counselors worry about those, and maybe the collections agents, though I hope it doesn't come to that. But I'd like to offer some money now, before people start demanding it and making threats. Because I know I won't want to offer anything then. I'm still trying to figure the best way to respond, but I think I'm doing better this time around.

By the way, the hospital has a Christian heritage, with a mission statement that says they offer care "in the spirit of Jesus Christ."

I wonder if I should mention at some point that Jesus offered his care for free...