Letter to the editor: Tick bite yields very large bill

On October 16th last year, I was visiting my in-laws in Cornwall and was bitten by a tick. I am a New York City resident and not aware of proper care for this. My mother-in-law insisted I go just up the road to the Emergency Room at Porter Medical Center behind Middlebury College.
I fully believe in socialized medicine and would happily pay more taxes to support it. However, I am instead forced by our corrupt government to pay directly into the pockets of the for-profit “health” insurance industry, to the tune of $10,000 a year for my wife and I, (going up TEN percent to $11,000 this year,) with a $7,000 deductible, to receive almost nothing in return.
Aware of my deductible, I was prepared to pay an exorbitant amount for “treatment” for my tick bite — I assumed a couple hundred dollars. Hoping to avoid this, I inquired with the ER clerk whether I should even be there for a tick bite. I was certainly in no immediate danger and knew that at most I might be prescribed a shot or pill just in case. The clerk was unwilling or unable to provide me any information, certainly did not hint at the extreme amount it would cost me, did not direct me to a more appropriate health care provider such as an urgent care facility, and suggested that it was simply up to me whether to check in or not, and that was the only way to find out anything.
So I checked in, had my vitals taken, (for no reason whatsoever given I was simply after the answer to my question,) and shortly saw a doctor. The ER seemed very quiet that morning, so I spent maybe five minutes discussing with the doctor the ramifications of a tick bite. He was very helpful, making clear to me that there is no sound research on the best treatment, and that the antibiotic pill he could provide me would mostly be for my own peace of mind, since the tick was not engorged so the likelihood of my contracting Lyme was likely very small. I decided to take the antibiotic and left.
When UVM/Porter’s bill came in the mail, I was appalled to find a $378 ER fee, (for not answering my question, forcing me to check in, and needlessly taking my vitals?), a $272 prof. fee, (for casually talking with me for five minutes to give me an inconclusive answer to my question?), and a $5.56 fee for the pill, totaling $655.56! I was pleasantly surprised that the antibiotic was so cheap, but the rest of the fees were exorbitant in the extreme, given the care I’d required.
I can see such fees making sense if I’d come in with a bloody arm or crushed foot, (like the other two poor folk who I saw check in that morning.) But given that I was there simply for an answer to my question, AND that I already paid $10,000 a year for “healthcare” as it was; well, suffice to say I was enraged.
I spoke with my insurance company, Oscar, and they helpfully tried to negotiate a preferred rate for me, but they were unable to get anything out of Porter’s billing department, since they were not “in their network,” despite the fact that Porter was the only health care provider available to me to my awareness on vacation in the region. Are we to be slaves, trapped, unable to travel for fear of injury, simply because of the absurdity of a regional “health” insurance system?
My anger is not necessarily with UVM/Porter so much as with our atrocious system that forces patients and providers into such absurd circumstances. A proper socialized healthcare system cannot come soon enough to this country.
Nevertheless, in my anger, I’ve ignored Porter’s monthly bills in the mail since that time, and they finally began calling me last week. As such, I sent them a version of this letter, as well as a check for the $200 I’d expected to pay that day. (Still far more than five minutes of advice and a $5 pill warrant, I think, but I’m willing to concede some given the corrupt, abusive, and cruel system we’re all stuck with.)
I’m aware that it is within health care providers’ purview to negotiate better rates when patients are unable to pay. I asked that they consider my story above as my request for such consideration. And while we are stuck with such a poor system, I do believe UVM/Porter Medical Center can still do a much better job of serving its community as regards minor injuries, care needs, and simple information, such as for my tick bite that day. Couldn’t an informative poster in the lobby have saved me and others hundreds of dollars? And wouldn’t it be a kindness to advertise their standard ER rates as well? As a customer and patient, I feel I have a right to know.
Kris Diehl
Astoria, N.Y.

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