My first trip to an American Clinic: So Un-American!

Where's the billing dept.?
Where’s the billing dept.?

Before coming back to the US I only had two worries: 1) where was I gonna get awesome, authentic Chinese food?? 2) what happens if I get sick?

Since student loans are my shackles for the next few years (as long as I repay them like a baller…), any medical incident has the potential to reinforce them in cement. Even with insurance, I felt this pit in my stomach coming back because I knew there would always be a heavy co-pay… after the $2000 deductible, of course. And the cost of getting treated is anyone’s guess…

Luckily when I got back to the US (uninsured here at the time) I had no health issues. It was when I started working at my current company that I had a reason to go to urgent care and then to a local hospital. It was an ear infection that caused some hearing loss for about 4 weeks. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise…

When I went to urgent care for my left ear (after barely getting through work one day), I signed-in to be seen by a doctor. I was seen within 15 minutes which was great, but done in less than 3. I was prescribed an antibiotic which I found out later was for a simpler type of ear infection… but it was when I left the doctors office and returned to the front desk that I felt the most confused.

Instinctively, as a consumer perhaps or because I had been to hospitals in China, I pulled my wallet out ready to hear the cost of my care. That’s when I was told, “sign here please and you’ll be all set.”

“Don’t I have to at least pay my copay amount?” I asked.

The nurse/receptionist replied “No, we don’t do billing here. You’ll get a bill in the mail.”

Somewhat surprised I asked “But how much did this visit cost? Isn’t there a pricing list or something? It was a pretty standard visit.”

All she could tell me was that billing wasn’t done at this location. I should wait for insurance to cover what they cover and then be ready to pay the rest…

This sounded like the most absurd line of crap I’d ever heard. In America, where we pride ourselves on a market-based economy, democratic values, and freedom and everything else, I’m now being told to agree to pay an amount for a service without knowing the price of it! WTF is that all about?

The hospital I visited the next day did the same thing. I had tests done, a hi-tech camera went way up my nose, and I saw a specialist before I left with the correct prescription. I signed papers without any idea how much I was agreeing to… And the billing wasn’t even mentioned! The billing people were out of sight completely.

If care was free I wouldn’t care, but it’s NOT free. Where else does this happen in this country? And who decides the price of a diagnosis, or a test, or a procedure anyway? Do insurance companies actually negotiate on our behalf? If so, why? No other service or product in the US is “sold” this way and it’s the most un-American system I’ve ever encountered. Even the Chinese health care system is more American than ours.

Please, somebody, prove to me that I’m wrong.