If You Live Outside The US, And You Don’t Know How The US Healthcare System Works, You’re In For A HUGE Surprise


Producer’s note: Someone on Quora decided to write something about their experience with healthcare in the United States. Thank you to the team at Quora for making this happen!

For everyone outside the US, the healthcare debate must be somewhat confusing, isn’t it? To me it was. What’s all the fuss about? Single payer, universal healthcare, positive rights, lobbies what are all these stakeholders talking about? Now having come here, I’ve been able to witness the surface and it’s by far the most complex system I’ve seen. Working in a healthcare-related firm provides me lots of insights, but raises many more questions. However this post isn’t for all that. But to give you readers outside US an idea of what a bill in a hospital visit looks like here. For my friends in India, this would be a huge shock but I’m sure even for people from other Western countries who have never been to the US, it would be baffling.

How I ended up at the doctor multiple times.

About 2 months back, I started having terrible back pain which was just worsened when I decided to ice-skate. My decision to go to the doctor took me a few days, which was a combination of understanding the complex system around healthcare and insurances, and making appointments.

My first visit was followed with a Physical therapy appointment – but the soonest available date was a week later. So I waited despite the pain persisting.

When I informed the therapist of my history with kidney stones, she was alerted to have me tested whether they’re the source of my persisting pain. But since they didn’t have the equipment, they asked me to go to Emergency Department in another hospital (I went on a bus while it was snowing) and get tested.

After 2 hours of putting me on IVs, conducting a CT scan the results were negative. However, I was unsure of the follow-up, and my pain had worsened a lot the next day so 2 days later I went to the Urgent Care, which was followed with another physical therapy few days later.

The excellent thing is insurance covered it all, so I never got to know the real prices. Except when one fine day after getting treated in my mailbox I found a letter from the ED. I wished it was a copy of test results, but when I realized it was a bill, with all I’d heard of US healthcare I prayed it to be within $50. But it wasn’t. What was it? See it yourself:

A whopping $4600. For 2 hours in the ED. And see the breakup of the bill, $1050 just for the bed, but what’s more astonishing is $2950 for the scan.

I’ve got done a similar scan in India (for kidney stones) and it cost about Rs 1500 ($25).

Fortunately rather than dying of a heart attack, I turned the bill over.

There was a huge sigh of relief. Indeed $50. Thank Lord (no religion debates here please)! However there was one small caveat:

Confusing, eh? Insurance adjustments? Independent contractors? WTF? There were too many questions in my mind, and to make things worse I’d to follow up with another set of appointments for eye-related issue weeks later, which had it’s own set of problems (which I won’t discuss here).

My mind is a mesh of questions which I want to dump on Quora, but to start- why does the same CT scan cost 70 times than in India? The PPP is ~ 3. It’s the same procedure, same machine. Is it patents?

Anyways, I just wanted to demonstrate to non-Americans what a bill here looks like. You all can discuss, I am leaving to pay off the bills.

This comment originally appeared at Quora.