Friday, March 1, 2013

The problem with healthcare

One thing that shocked me about Iceland is how expensive eating out is (large proportion of exports, high labor costs) – even a shitty hot dog meal at a gas station is at least 10 dollars.  I often assume that living in America is more expensive than in other countries, given our high salaries, but of course that’s not always the case.  However, I do often hear friends and people on the internet complaining about the high cost of healthcare in the US.  After a recent (really horrific) trip to the dentist for fill 5 cavities, I certainly have a laundry list of complaints about the system.  But I have to wonder whether (in addition to the cost being high), we have a bad attitude.

I think it’s reprehensible (and completely unnecessary) how poorly insurance companies and doctors interface, and how much stress and confusion is forced on the patient in the middle.  I have dental insurance – it’s real, the company is legit, and allegedly my plan is pretty good.  The dentist’s office I went to has also been in business for a while, has some sort of customer base and system to process insurance claims, and also seems legit.  And yet, armed with the fairly basic insurance guidelines (full coverage for preventative care, and 80% for non-preventative care, up to 1K per year) and my insurance info – the doctor’s office couldn’t tell me how much I owed!  On top of that, I proved to them that their estimate was incorrect (and had my insurance company paying more than their maximum).

I knew the doctor’s office was wrong, but I didn’t know what amount was right (or why they couldn’t figure it out), and it was totally infuriating and stressful.  I consider myself an analytical person but resent the system that forces me to figure out payment on my own, even as I lack the information that both my insurance company and doctor readily have available.  And don’t get me started on the additional medical procedure my dentist performed without consulting me (or informing me of the price).  I did not have to pay, but I am not happy.

Filling my five cavities cost about $600.  It’s worth noting that my lack of preventative flossing contributed majorly to the situation, and that needing so much dental work in one year is not the norm given proper dental hygiene.  But assuming my insurance is super amazing, and others routinely spend this much per year at the dentist– should we consider that expensive?  My cell phone (with all the bells and whistles and tethering and hotspotting) costs $100 per month (fortunately, currently paid by my company).  The over-advertised Android Talk is about $50 per month – less, but still a lot of money.  So in one year, your cell phone costs $600 for the plan.  Many spend that much or more on internet or cable.  Some seem more willing to pay for cable than for their health – that’s what seems crazy.

My experience has put flossing in a new light – it’s a smart financial decision.  Forget cutting back on Starbucks lattes to save money – start flossing!

What do you think?  Are Americans more willing to pay for fancy new gadgets than for their health?  Would they rather be lazy than do something as simple as flossing that has such high returns? (I certainly am guilty of that one).  And of course, if anyone else has a traumatic dentist story, I welcome you to join me in misery.  (My story: Valentine’s day, Novocain on the top and bottom of my mouth, and not being able to eat from noon to 5pm.)


  1. "Some seem more willing to pay for cable than for their health – that’s what seems crazy."
    Great observation!

    Don't forget cutting back on Starbucks lattes (and various less obvious things I actually enjoy regularly, like juice) helps your teeth too. That's a lot of sugar flowing through your mouth.

    1. Ha, this is the second time you've mentioned Starbucks lattes! I don't even drink coffee. Although, does coffee actually cause cavities if you drink it black? I assumed it just discolors the enamel, but maybe it's worse than I thought. Good thing I take my tea without sugar, or the 5+ cups a day would be a problem. =)

  2. You mentioned it first here. When you say "Starbucks lattes" I think of the really sugary drinks on their menu, not black coffee.