Sticker shock: A couple from Australia learns the hard way about life without health insurance
“A week later we saw an orthopedic specialist for a follow-up examination. That appointment, which included X-rays, cost $US480 ($615).

Then came the bad news. The wrist would need to be operated on. They could do it next week, but first, a check-up by a ‘primary care physician’ was needed.

This ‘internist’, as he was called, asked a few standard questions about medical history and allergies, got the stethoscope out, looked into the mouth and ears, and took some blood. That would be $US450 please. If he saw 12 patients a day, that would be $US5000 per day. Allowing a day each week for golf, that worked out as an annual income of $US1.25 million.

That was an expensive day for us (or our insurers), but not as expensive as it would become. The day before the operation, the surgeon’s office rang to tell us what it would cost.

The surgeon’s fees would be ‘more than $US8000’ and the hospital fees would be $US9443. An anaesthetist would be extra.

The day we returned to the hospital for the operation we entered via the front door, on Fifth Avenue. Patients are greeted in the 12-storey atrium by a woman who accompanies you to the reception desk. Before you get to see a doctor, you sit down with a clerk: ‘What insurance do you have?’

Since then we have had follow-up visits to the orthopedic surgeon (included in his original fee) and twice-weekly rounds of physiotherapy. The first visit was $300.43. Don’t forget the 43 cents.

We have since had other encounters with the US health system. To start children in American schools, they need a physical examination – $US300 please.”

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