This summer, Sam, my oldest son, had appendicitis.  Like all doctor’s kids, his diagnosis eluded me.  Until, three days into his pain, when his brother Seth said, ‘Papa, Sam is hurting.  You need to check on him!’  Sure enough, his exam was worse than before.  After labs and a CT scan, we found that his appendix was behind his colon, and needed to come out into the light of day.

His care was great.  I’m still singing the praises of Dr. Pete Gilbert and his nurse Lori, of Oconee Memorial Hospital, for the care they gave my first-born boy.  He was back on his feet in two days.  He never had any hint of infection.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  My son was healthy and back to normal.

Looking back, our experience was a wonderful one.  And it gave me a lot of insight, not only into how it feels (once again) to have a sick family member, but into the economics of medicine.

Now, Sam was in the hospital for a little less than 24 hours, door to door.  He had a CT scan and surgery, antibiotics, pain medication and IV fluids.  He had all the things that go with it, including dressings, etc.  His hospital bill (minus surgeon’s fee) was around $20,000.

I am not complaining.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I’d be a hypocrite if I said it was a ridiculous bill.  I’m thankful to God above for my job and the insurance I have that helps me to care for my family, both in crisis and in maintenance of things like Seth’s Insulin pump.

But, something occurred to me about the bill.  Let’s face it, Sam probably didn’t get $20,000 worth of care, medication and supplies.  But what Sam did do is cover his surgery, and maybe three or four others.  I can believe he received $5000 worth of care.  It seems reasonable.  So really, his surgery paid for his own care, and about $5000 worth of care for several others.

Now, why don’t we just acknowledge that?  In the Torah, we read the concept of the ‘Year of Jubilee.’  A year in which, in ancient Israel, debts were forgiven.  Why don’t we do this, honestly, with medical bills?

See, I can pay my bill.  But the guy working for minimum wage will have a hard time.  Fortunately, my son’s bill paid for his son’s bill.  So let’s be up front and write his off!  I mean, we talk about how much debt people and hospitals are in.  But are they?  If every bill is a bill inflated in order to cover other bills, what’s the real debt?

I’m not saying we have to write off every bill.  Money has to come in, so that the system will continue.  And most likely, profit has to be made.  It’s unrealistic to envision a system of medical excellence in which the organizations and workers can’t work hard to make more money.  We demand excellence in our technology.  We become angry when our computers give us problems.  Do we really want a system of mediocrity in health-care?

But we need to be fair and just.  In the book of the Prophet Micah, Micah says, ‘He has shown you, oh man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’

I think we could be more just, and more merciful to the uninsured by reducing their inflated debt to a more reasonable actual debt.  And since the insured already bear the weight of the uninsured, why not be honest about it and write off some debt?  It seems a way to avoid a truly socialized disaster, by applying something that would keep government involvement at bay, and still ease the weight of health-care costs for those who really can’t afford them.
It seems a simple thing to me; but I’m a simple-minded guy.

Edwin

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