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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: February 21, 2019

Medical Bills 1956

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I was born in 1956 in a little hospital where my parents were living at the time. My mom was admitted at 3:50 a.m., the kind of inconvenient hour babies like to make their pending appearance known. The reason I know this level of detail is somewhere not long ago my mother unearthed the hospital bill associated with my birth and it makes for some entertaining reading.

It's all typewritten on a single page. Imagine someone now, inserting single sheets of paper into a manual typewriter and laboriously copying down row after row of information. The entire charges list is on the front of the one-page bill, with the back given to standard printing about the bill. Apparently even back then there was sensitivity to the amount of charges, since a quaint comparison of what you get for a hotel stay and a hospital stay was included in the boilerplate on the back. In the column marked "hotel day," charges include room only; meals and all services extra, tipping customary and in business for profit.

Under "hospital day" the lengthy list includes meals, bedside tray service, between meal nourishment, special diet availability, nursing service, linen changes as needed, hospital gowns, use of expensive equipment, 24 hour attention, no tipping allowed and "non-profit institution."

I found it charming, and in the current light of fierce debates about our health care, sort of innocent.

My birth, which was uncomplicated, resulted in a five night hospital stay. Imagine that. We soon will see women give birth and go home the same day. There are reasons it makes sense to get a healthy mom and baby home soon " less exposure to infections, for one thing; and for some escape from an environment that makes it hard to rest. However, others would welcome the longer stay now, and the extra help recovering from birth. But the cost of extended hospital stays and the associated care have soared " and no insurance company will pay for any additional time unless it can be justified in painful detail by the medical providers. And for those with no insurance, even having a healthy baby can be ruinous.

Among the charges listed on my parent's bill were mom's drugs " one at ten cents; another at 65 cents. The delivery room charge was $15, and her anesthesia was $12. There were a total of $7 charges for "dressings," and a $4.25 fee for the lab.

The grand total for the entire five night stay, less the doctor's fee, was $113.40.

At the time I am sure this was still a significant amount of money on an English teacher's salary, plus probably another three-figure bill for the doctor. That seems quaint too, a three-figure doctor bill.

I don't remember my dreams very often at all, but if I were to have a five star nightmare, it would be that I am on some sort of small committee completely empowered with fixing all that is wrong with our health care in the United States. (No disputing we have some wonderful aspects, but the escalating costs and increasing accessibility issues are serious indeed.)

But IF this terrible nightmare were true, the very first thing I would do is channel Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers. I would throw all the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies and the health care conglomerates out of the houses of government and slam the doors behind them. There sometimes seems to be no one who truly and solely has the health care interests of the common person as their priority in government any more " I say this without regard to political party. These are thorny, painful questions, and it seems like there is way too much money buying philosophy and policy.

One of the key variables between now and then, of course, is that pre-printed line on the back of mom and dad's bill - "not for profit" hospital.

I'm going to hang on to the bill for my birth. Someday, one of my children will have it in their hands and find it as much as a marvel as I am. But I hope and pray that they won't have the reflection about the implication of medical cost unaffordability that it provokes in me now.

Song stuck (really stuck this time) in my head: Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine and sung by any good female artist.

Godspeed, Dennis. I hope the fishing in your new home in the sky is awesome.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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