Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Vacation souvenir: A low hospital bill
By Danielle Dellorto
Associate Medical Producer
I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Paris with an interesting story to share. Yes, we visited the usual hot-spots: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre. But I unexpectedly experienced France's health care system, too.
My husband woke up around 4 a.m. on our last night in Paris very sick - throwing up, pale, severe stomach pain. Perhaps a bit naive, I figured it would pass. I was wrong.
Nearly 12 hours later he was still throwing up and was having a hard time breathing. His throat was starting to swell. At that point, I made the call to head to a hospital in Paris.
On the ride over, I started to think about the quality of care he was about to get. The cost also crossed my mind. Emergency room visits are never cheap and we would have to pay the bill up front and submit to our insurance company in the U.S. upon our return. I made sure my credit card was handy, expecting the bill to be a few thousand dollars.
Within five minutes of our arrival, my husband was checked in and getting settled into a hospital room. Ten minutes later, he had an IV in his arm and blood was being drawn. The doctor conducted his evaluation, took a throat culture, and administered several medications all within 45 minutes.
Two IV bags, a cortisone shot and five hours later, we were heading to the billing department.
"Oh no," I told my husband. "I can just imagine how much this bill is going to be."
To my surprise, the total bill was 275 Euro, or roughly $450. For five hours of high-quality treatment. And this amount is not my co-payment or "my portion" of the bill. It is the total cost of care for the day.
To put that in perspective, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, the average cost of a day spent in a hospital in the U.S. is $4,700.
Interesting to note, if I were a French citizen, I would have paid, out of pocket, 1 Euro for the visit.
But before you start thinking health care is "free" in France, let me point out the taxes they pay. Approximately 21 percent of a French salary goes to France's version of Social Security, which includes mandatory health insurance, supplemental health insurance and retirement benefits.
So what do you make of it? Do you think we overpay for health care in the U.S.? Would you favor higher taxes if it meant our health care would be a few dollars a visit?
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