With all the health care reform talk, I thought I'd add a personal perspective.
My mother, who turned 90 this year, always saved everything when it came to official paperwork (like many others of her generation). So I wasn't much surprised when she handed me what was clearly a decades-old piece of paper. "Take a look at this," she said, offering me a faded pink document.
It was the Member's Copy of a Blue Cross Statement of Account. It wasn't until I straightened out the creases and peered more intently that I saw the paper was a breakdown of the hospital charges for my birth -- March 19, 1952 (you do the math).
For Mom's stay in Ward 323, the hospital charged $53 for a seven-day stay -- three days at $7 per and the remaining four at $8 a day. I don't think moms get to stay that long with no complications, do they? Next we add in $10 for the delivery room charges and $7 for my board -- I didn't take up much space, I guess, so I got the $1 a day rate. Throw in $2.25 for drugs (today's paper dispensing cup costs more, I think) and $5 in lab costs and you get the grand total of $77.25 for my entrance into this world.
Now at the time, Blue Cross had a flat-rate maternity benefit in my parents' policy of $9.50 a day for 10 days maximum. That made for a benefit of $66.50 -- leaving my folks to come up with $10.75 if they wanted to take me home.
I realize you have to factor in inflation, but using the Inflation Calculator provided by the Federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics (no pun intended) tells me that $77.25 translates to $628.77 in 2009. I think hospital maternity charges today are a whole lot higher than that.
So why have health care costs risen so much more than the general rate of inflation? Technology? Labor? Malpractice Insurance? Maybe it's paperwork. A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that U.S. health care paperwork cost almost $300 billion in 1999, and a Harvard/Public Citizen report noted that the U.S. health care bureaucracy in 2003 cost nearly $400 billion! What's it cost today -- half a trillion?
I wouldn't want to go back to the medical technology, salaries or other circumstances of the health care industry of 1952, but maybe if we went back to the paperwork system of that era, maybe we'd save a little money?
Handwritten at the bottom of my mother's Statement of Account were the words: "Paid 3/26/52" along with a signature. I think my mother kept the receipt as proof of payment to keep somebody from the hospital from showing up at her door demanding the return of the "goods" (me).
I'm officially worth just short of $11 -- or $78 if you take out the reimbursement. To Mom -- and Dad (10 years in heaven this fall) -- thanks for coming up with the cash. I hope I've been worth the investment.