The Cost of Health

reduce-healthcare-costI got a bill today for my surgery. Apparently, a lumpectomy with associated pre-op, anesthesia, and a couple hours in recovery runs just over $25,000. That’s on top of $2700 for an ultrasound, $4500 for an MRI, $3000 for pathology, $2500 or so for genetic testing to see if I have BRCA mutations (I don’t), and another several hundred dollars at a pop for various consultations with the surgeon and oncologists. I’m bad at math, so I won’t add all that up. But, it’s an awful lot!

Thankfully, we have great health insurance that includes a health reimbursement account and a fairly low deductible and out-of-pocket max. So, this illness will not have a terrible financial impact on our family. But for some families, cancer, severe injury, heart attacks, etc. lead to serious financial hardship or disaster. And even if insurance pays the lion’s share of the costs, someone is still paying for the care.

Several of the projects I work with relate to prevention—initiatives and programs at local, state, and national levels that aim to change personal behavior, policies, systems, and community environments as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce the burden of disease in the United States. Frequently, I see figures that estimate the cost of health care in the United States—figures in the trillions of dollars. Figures in the billions for treating individual diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or stroke. And although those figures are impressive (not in a good way) and keep me excited about the work our department does, they are abstract numbers that are hard to really wrap my mind around.

Seeing that $25,000 charge on a bill addressed to me, however, drives the point home much more concretely. The cost of health care is outrageous. They say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Obviously, there is great wisdom in that—not only from a financial perspective, but also from a pain-and-suffering perspective. I’m grateful there are many people and organizations—my colleagues included—who are working to help prevent illnesses that take such a huge toll on individuals and society. And I’m grateful to be able to contribute in my own small way to that purpose. I’m hopeful that in my lifetime, we’ll see real progress with dramatic reductions in diseases that cost a fortune and rob millions of people of a long, full life.

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