There was a day when 20 cents would buy you 20 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. Today those two same dimes will buy you two pieces of Bazooka based on Wal-Mart charging $2.42 for a 24-count bag.
Ironically, 20 cents is exactly what the sales tax would be on that bag of two dozen pieces of Bazooka.
What brings this up is a windfall I got in the mail Monday.
Tenet Health — the parent company of Doctors Hospital of Manteca — sent me a refund check for 20 cents.
Unless I can find someplace that still sells single pieces of Bazooka I can’t even buy bubble gum with it. That said, it would cover what the state demands on the transaction of one bag of the stuff that was the precursor to cell phones for classroom disruptions. Teachers are no longer gum monitors. Annoyances have gone high tech thanks to smartphones in the hands of virtually every school kid.
When I first opened the envelope and saw it was a refund for 20 cents, it threw me for a loop. It’s been 15 months since I last accessed services at Doctors Hospital. That was for X-rays of a foot to take to a podiatrist considered to be a miracle worker of sorts with severe bunions and hammertoes after my primary physician was worried it might be infected. I paid a co-payment of perhaps $40, if that. For the peace of mind it gave me — it wasn’t infected as I belong to an elite class of folks who with one glance sends shivers down the spines of even the most seasoned general physician — Tenet could over charge me $10 and I wouldn’t have cared.
But then I looked at the address, it was originally sent to. It’s been 13 years since I’ve lived there and all my paperwork including a follow up bill for my X-ray had been sent to my current address.
So I called a Tenet billing center two time zones away. It was the wrong place to call. I didn’t want to waste any more Tenet staff time given the amount of money they had already spent to determine I overpaid 20 cents as well as to cut a check and mail it (the postage was six more cents than the refund), so I simply asked why they would go back and audit old bills.
The short answer was to comply with federal regulations and to make sure their patients were accurately billed. The Tenet representative said it could have been another procedure I co-paid on or it may have been the X-ray and she would check if I wished her to. I passed on the offer.
The last co-pay I believe I had with Doctors Hospital before the X-rays was 15 years ago after I had emergency surgery when I kept ignoring pain allowing a hernia to strangulate and get dangerously close to bursting. If I recall correctly that one cost $60,000 plus as opposed to my first hernia operation (both were in the groin) that was in the mid-$20,000 range a few years earlier. Given how close doctors said it was to bursting and some physician friends telling me afterwards that it could easily have had fatal consequences, Tenet can keep the 20 cents. My out of pocket for that surgery was $800. Given the 15 plus years I’ve had of good heath since then, they could have overcharged me $1,000 and I wouldn’t have cared.
I understand that hospital billing departments have to constantly recheck their work due to audits and such but even so you’d think the government or someone would cut them some slack if the error is less than $1. At the same time if they undercharged someone by a $1 or less they should let that go. California’s Franchise Tax Board for years has rounded off tax liability and refunds to the dollar after studies showed it ends up in basically a zero gain/loss once everything is taken into account.
I get the need to audit every bill thoroughly. But there has to be some sanity brought to the system when the postage alone is 6 cents more than the refund before you take into account the cost of printing the check and stuffing it into an envelope.
We spend so much time and energy talking about what’s wrong with health insurance as well as focusing on the relatively low number of missteps in patient care that we forget about how good healthcare is in this country.
Take child birth. Back in 1900 the mortality rate was 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in the United States. By 2000 the mortality rate had dropped to 6.89 infant deaths by 1,000 live births. At the same time the maternal death rate in 1900 went from 7.2 women per 1,000 live births down to 0.1 women per 1,000.
Birth defects have plummeted. Death rates from virtually every medical procedure have dropped off significantly.
Yet many of us still moan and groan about healthcare costs.
I get it. Except for those who are unfortunate to have illness and handicaps that were not of their making, the rest of us should feel pretty good about the health care we have in this country.
If more of us — including myself — stepped up practices that keep us healthier we wouldn’t be running all the time to a doctor for a miracle cure in the form of an expensive pill.
The best health insurance is prevention.
And when that fails, people like surgeon Dr. Jerry Weiner and organizations like Doctors Hospital are worth every dime.