Friday, March 18, 2016

#SOL16: Staggering Medical Costs

Rob at home during Hospice

As many of you know, a little more than a week ago my husband died. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer on September 8th, 2015.  On January 8, 2016 he underwent a 90-minute surgical procedure on his spine in an effort to reduce spinal cord compression.  The lung cancer had metastasized and he had lesions on his spine. Rob underwent this surgery with the understanding from the oncology team that he had at least 6 more months to live.  Had he less than that amount of time we were told,  the surgery would not have been done.  Four weeks later, the oncologist told us that Rob's illness was now terminal. He died 4 weeks after that on March 8th, 2016.

During the six months I cared for my husband, I set aside all of the correspondence from the insurance company and the medical bills from pathology corporations, ambulance companies, surgeons, doctors, etc.  My first priority was caring for Rob and our teenage son. Now that Rob's care is no longer a need, I started to sort through the pile of bills.  I have been nothing less than amazed and appalled at the staggering amount of money that my insurance company has paid.  We're talking millions.

What caught my eye was an accounting from the insurance company that arrived on Tuesday.  The insurance company indicated that they have paid a little more than $283,000 to the surgeon's practice for his 90 minutes of work on that January morning.  Additionally, I have received a separate bill for another $27,000 for the assistant surgeon's bill from the same practice. Now keep in mind that the insurance company also paid $26,000 to the assistant. The insurance company also has indicated that I am responsible for an additional $18,500 that I will need to pay to the surgeon's practice.

I called the surgeon's practice and went through the bills with the billing office. I am pleased to say that they have decided to forgive all of the debt I would have had to pay. And I am of course thankful for that especially given the remaining pile of bills that still await payment.

I must admit though, I do wonder about the amount of money that was charged for a 90-minute surgery and what the insurance company has said it has already paid.


Rob had spinal surgery on January 8, 2016.

He never was able to stand up, let alone walk again. For two weeks of the three he was home before he died, Rob would wake and say, "Help me up. I want to get out of bed."  I would have the painful task of reminding him that he could no longer walk.  Although he entered the hospital with just his right leg not working, he lost capacity in both legs after the surgery.


  1. Mary Ann this is just incredible. Horrific is the word that comes to mind. Would love to get together for lunch. Are you around at all next week? My heart just breaks for what is happening to you.

    1. Thanks Deb. I'm home on Friday. How are you feeling?

  2. Staggering, Mary Ann. Clear evidence that illuminates the need for a total healthcare rehaul. Shaking my head and...again, learning from your experience.

  3. Mary. I have followed your journey with Rob and am so moved by his life, your acts of sharing and writing your way through. I'm so sorry that the system sent you bills in these hours, and that healthcare ultimately forgets the humans at the heart of everything and turns on some absurd business model. Much like in education, we have so much important work to do in recentering on the human experience at the core of it all. Wishing you space, light and peace.

    1. Space, light and peace are surely needed. Thank you, Robin.


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