Can anyone afford to get sick?

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

About eight months ago I had a misunderstanding with a pile of lumber which, when resolved, left me with shattered right wrist. Yes, that right wrist, just like the one you use everyday. Two surgeries and a stack of medical bills later there is still a lot of recovery yet to do, both physically and financially. 

My wife and I have paid for private health insurance out-of-pocket every month for the past 25 years. Our policy has a $5,000 deductible that we pay before the insurance kicks in and then we pay 30 percent of all covered expenses after that, as well as all the uncovered ones. Even a relatively minor incident can end up costing plenty.


The billing system that health care providers use is cryptic and confusing to say the least. I stopped by the hospital billing office with a bill full of codes and figures for an explanation to try to understand where and what I was being charged for. The kind agent offered to print me out a line item breakdown of the charges, which I found both interesting and frightening at the same time. 

The first surgery required installing an external fixator — the rod that attaches to the two screws drilled into my bones (which makes most people cringe when they see it) — that serves to stretch and stabilize a battered joint. These three pieces of hardware cost $4,500 — not the doctor, the medicines, anesthesia, operating room, etc. — just the parts. The rest of the charges came to another $19,000. Did I get a good deal?

The second surgery two weeks later consisted of filleting my wrist, reconstructing the splintered mess, and installing a metal plate and a dozen screws to hold everything in place until nature’s magic could heal it back together. The line item for the plate (listed as “implant”) read $13,500. The 12 screws were another $400 EACH (installation not included). 

As a longtime builder, I stopped to ponder how many screws you can buy for $4,800, and no matter how I tried to figure it, I always came up with more than 12. The drill bit used to make the pilot holes for the screws was another $555; must be some pretty fancy drill bit I reasoned. 

Other charges I found interesting on the bill included use of the Recovery Room at $17.30 (per minute) and the anesthesia tech fee of $6,999, which I found peculiar since the surgeon’s fee was only $2,750. Too bad my high school guidance counselor never mentioned putting people to sleep as a career option.

Total cost for my two hospital visits is hovering around $65,000, a pretty big blow to just about anyone’s pocketbook. Thank goodness for my insurance, which reduced my out-of-pocket costs to around $20K. I guess retirement just got moved out a little further.

After spending some time digesting all of this, I came to realize that even a simple injury for someone with no insurance would send most American families straight to the poorhouse. How can families protect themselves from losing everything when an accident comes from out of the blue? How can our nation cope with these costs on a national level when so many people need so much? 

Maybe it is important to have everyone insured in some way, but I don’t know how unless we all become congressmen/women with golden health insurance as a perk.

I gave it more thought and only came up with a couple of options: one is to just never get hurt or sick since it’s too expensive. Good luck with that. Option two is to simply die before you do get hurt, which may sound a little heartless to some, but it just makes good economic sense. Did I miss something?

(John Beckman is a builder and farmer in Jackson County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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