By HANS DUVEFELT
I have a patient with no health insurance but a brand new Mercedes. He says he can’t afford health insurance. He cringes at the cost of his medications and our office visit charges. His car cost a lot of money and I know that authorized Mercedes dealers charge around $140/hour for their technicians’ (not mere mechanics) time. A routine service costs several hundred dollars, which he seems more okay with than the cost of his own healthcare visits.
His new Mercedes is under warranty, but his body is not. He is risking financial disaster if he gets seriously ill with no insurance coverage.
I have another patient who needed a muscle relaxer for a short period of time. His insurance wouldn’t cover it without a prior authorization. The cash cost was about $14. We suggested he pay for the medication and told him his condition would have resolved by the time a prior auth might have been granted. He elected to go without.
The brutal truth is that a primary care doctor’s opportunity cost, how much revenue we can potentially generate by seeing patients, is around $400/hour or $7/minute. There is no way I could request a prior authorization in under two minutes. So it would have been more cost effective to pay for his medication than to do the unreimbursed paperwork (or computer work, or phone work) on his behalf. But, of course, we can’t do that.
That patient and many others think that health insurance is such a complete package deal that everything should be covered. They feel moral indignation if they have to pay out of pocket.
Even Sweden’s socialized medicine system has copays. Why do some Americans balk at a one-time cash cost of $14 for a non-covered drug when monthly, lifelong copays for modern COPD inhalers that many fixed-income seniors depend on can be over $100?
Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.