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article imageOp-Ed: $117,000 'drive-by doctor' bill calls for universal health care

By Calvin Wolf     Sep 21, 2014 in Politics
The complexities of medical billing can be confusing and infuriating, but a case from New York reveals the dangerous, and growing, trend of "drive-by doctoring." Doctors who consult on procedures, without the knowledge of the patient, can charge big fees.
A New York man went under the knife for surgery on herniated discs in his neck. He was prepared to pay big medical bills, but was astounded when a $117,000 bill was received from a doctor he did not even recall meeting. The bill was for a neurosurgeon who was charging for his services as an "assistant surgeon" on the procedure. It turns out that patients can be billed by medical practitioners they don't know and have not met through a controversial practice known as "drive-by doctoring." According to the New York Times, this practice has grown more common as insurance companies attempt to crack down on paying exorbitant doctors' fees and doctors want to pad the bill in response.
Attempts at reform appear to have created a sort of arms race between profit-seeking doctors and profit-seeking health insurance companies. The losers, unfortunately, are the patients who have neither the expertise nor resources to defend themselves and their pocketbooks. A middle-class citizen can be wiped out if he needs expensive medical care - he cannot afford a lawyer to fight the padded bills he gets from doctors. If the citizen refuses to pay the exorbitant fees, he can be dragged to court. Only the insurance companies have the clout to fight back against doctors' fees...but few would argue that these profit-seeking firms are truly operating in consumers' best interests. Citizens must pay their high monthly premiums and hope that the insurance companies agree to pay out later on, fearing tricks hidden among the pages and pages of insurance contract fine print.
If the insurance company refuses to pay, claiming ___________ exception or violation, the citizen must hope he can afford a good attorney. Under our current system, the doctors, insurance companies, and lawyers are making good money. The rest of us better hope we don't get sick or injured.
Of course, not all doctors are money-hungry, not all insurance companies are nefarious, and plenty of lawyers truly want to see justice served. But we do need widespread health care reform, especially as our country continues to suffer from a weak economy. Gone are the days when the middle class had the real income to afford thorough medical care.
Our nation has the money to provide universal health care, the same way it provides universal public education. A fraction of the money we spend on defense and espionage could provide health care for every U.S. citizen. If we need more money, we could divert some wasteful government spending on bloated public universities to health care. We allow virtually every high school graduate into college, whether or not they are prepared to succeed, and let them waste their money before flunking out...but we won't provide them decent health care.
Hopefully the outrageous "drive-by doctoring" case from New York will spark some political discourse this midterm cycle. Will the potential pack of 2016 liberals, ranging from senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, propose any meaningful health care reforms to protect citizens' pocketbooks? Will the potential pack of 2016 conservatives, ranging from medical doctor senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, continue the Republican tradition of backing large corporations? Both parties should at least agree that "drive-by doctoring" is bad for America. Both parties should also agree that universal health care, like that offered by Canada and Britain, is what America needs now.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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