This is a story of bloodshed and cupcakes and our stupid-expensive health care system.
It is a Tale of Two Splinters.
Two journalists walked into the Star Tribune newsroom this summer with splinters in their fingers and hard choices in their futures. One outsourced her splinter removal to me. The other, after waiting two painful weeks with a thorn jammed in her good typing finger, headed for an urgent care clinic in St. Paul, where a real doctor was waiting with medical-grade tweezers.
Back in the newsroom, we took turns poking with needles and prodding with tweezers until someone called in an editor ruthless enough to really dig in there and pop that splinter out. My colleague, dazed and bloodied, bought the editor a cupcake as a thank you.
We all figured this was the most painful method of splinter removal. Until my other colleague walked out of urgent care with a bill for $751 and half a thorn still lodged in her finger. Even with insurance, she’ll have to pay $365 out of pocket, which would have bought oh so many cupcakes. Plus a month’s worth of groceries.
It’s not the nastiest surprise to arrive in a medical bill, of course. In 2016, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in five working-age Americans with health insurance are struggling to pay their medical bills. Families burn through their savings, pile up credit card debt and skimp on everything from groceries to prescriptions to pay their bills. And still, health care bankrupts American families with heartbreaking, infuriating frequency.
It would be nice if we lived in a country where nobody had to choose between groceries and Grandma’s insulin.
It would be nice if we lived in a country where you knew how much splinter removal would cost before you got the splinter removed.
But we live here. In a state that can, with some effort, survey hospitals to find out the going rate for an appendectomy. But they can’t tell you where to go to get the best price.