Won­der­ing about what health costs? Look to your pets

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

If you’ve got a pet, you know the hor­ri­ble cal­cu­la­tion: the devil’s bar­gain be­tween how much you love the lit­tle beastie, ver­sus how much vet­eri­nary care now costs.

Hun­dreds of dol­lars to get a cat spayed: eas­ily into the thou­sands as your much-beloved dog ages and its health fails. Emer­gency week­end visit? Roll out the credit card. A strange ane­mic con­di­tion that’s hard to pin down? Think about get­ting a loan.

There are in­surance plans now to help cover the costs of un­ex­pected pet health con­cerns in a world where even putting a pet down can costs hun­dreds of dol­lars.

But if it’s bad for pets, if you live in the United States, you know that the costs for treat­ing hu­mans are even higher.

In fact, you know just how high they are: if you have in­surance in the U.S., you get a reg­u­lar reck­on­ing even if you don’t have to pay the full shot.

A bill will come, cit­ing how many thou­sands of dol­lars your treat­ment has cost, and then there’s a sec­tion that de­tails what por­tion is left for you to pay. Even if your plan is a good one and you don’t pay very much, you have an idea of what a given pro­ce­dure costs. (It may not be a com­pletely clear idea - in some in­stances, Amer­i­can hos­pi­tal bills can be more of a ne­go­ti­at­ing tool be­tween hospi­tals and in­surance com­pa­nies than any­thing else.)

Ev­ery now and then, the num­bers can be eye-pop­ping - af­ter a San Diego man named Todd Fassler was bit­ten by a rat­tlesnake in 2015, his hos­pi­tal bill came in at a whop­ping US$153,161.25.

But here in the land of gov­ern­ment-paid medicine, we don’t have that pic­ture.

If you go to the emer­gency room on a Satur­day with your flu symp­toms be­cause your fam­ily doc­tor isn’t work­ing, how much ex­tra does it cost the sys­tem as a whole? You don’t know. If you’re in a hos­pi­tal bed for three weeks, what would it have cost you if the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments weren’t pick­ing up the tab? Once again, you have no clear idea.

Surely, if an X-ray of your cat costs $200, an X-ray of your leg must cost at least as much.

And maybe we should have that sort of knowl­edge in our hands. If you’re air­lifted from Labrador to the Health Sciences in St. John’s, all of the bills are some­where in the sys­tem. Ev­ery drug you are given while you’re laid up is tracked in your med­i­cal records. Surely, it wouldn’t be hard to at least ball­park what sort of ben­e­fit you are get­ting from hav­ing so­cial­ized medicine.

Heck, if you get in a car ac­ci­dent, your in­surer - once ev­ery­thing is said, done and paid for - sends you a wrap-up let­ter ex­plain­ing the en­tire cost of the ac­ci­dent, and of­ten, look­ing at the num­bers in­volved is an ob­ject les­son in mak­ing sure your car in­surance is fully paid and up to date.

When you grouse about the amount of in­come taxes you have to pay ev­ery year, would your com­plaints fade away if you saw how much your aunt’s knee re­place­ment surgery ac­tu­ally cost in full, and what it would do to the fam­ily fi­nances if ev­ery­body had to chip in to pay the bill? It just might.

Maybe, just maybe, once you were back home and re­cu­per­at­ing, it would be en­light­en­ing to get a copy of just how much it cost to pro­vide you with med­i­cal treat­ment.

Per­haps we’d be bet­ter, more in­formed stew­ards of how we use our med­i­cal sys­tem if we saw the ac­tual cash ben­e­fit of what we were re­ceiv­ing.

And per­haps we’d re­al­ize how valu­able our med­i­cal care ac­tu­ally is.

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