You probably don't remember this, but back in 2009, I had two colonoscopies in one summer. And because the pricing was radically weird, because one of them happened in the hospital and the other in the doctor's office, I had to write about it. Go on, read about it. Come back when you're done.
A couple of years later, Elisabeth Rosenthal (a writer for the Times) started a series of investigative articles about medical care pricing, called Paying Till It Hurts. Her first piece was about ... colonoscopies, and my expensive hospital based scope made it into the second paragraph. It is probably the last time I will be on the front page of the New York Times.
Sometime last summer, I got a note from the gastroenterologist reminding me that my five years were up and it was time for another. Oh the joys!
I duly scheduled an office visit, and had the scope, only to be told - when the propofol wore off - that I needed to have another in six months. So, if you're keeping track, this is four colonoscopies in about five years.
Since 2009, the Affordable Care Act has come into play, and my office's insurance carrier has changed, and my co-pays and deductibles have skyrocketed. But at core there's this: the doctor's office charges some wackadoodle number, and gets paid a negotiated rate. So, as a public service, and to aid in transparency in health care costs, here are the prices for my four colonoscopies:
#1 - 2009 - in the hospital
|Charges billed by doctors and hospital||$9,143|
|Amount paid by insurance||$5,743|
|Co-pay due from me||$125|
|TOTAL PAID TO MEDICAL PROVIDERS||$5,868|
#2 - 2009 in the doctor’s office
|Charges billed by doctors and lab||$5,323|
|Amount paid by insurance||$2,923|
|Co-pay due from me||$30|
|TOTAL PAID TO MEDICAL PROVIDERS||$2,953|
#3 - 2014 - in the doctor’s office - diagnostic
|Charges billed by doctors and lab||$9,022|
|Amount paid by insurance||$2,812|
|Co-pay (deductible) due from me||$1,243|
|TOTAL PAID TO MEDICAL PROVIDERS||$4,055|
#4 - 2015 - in the doctor’s office - screening
|Charges billed by doctors and lab||$7,711|
|Amount paid by insurance||$3,995|
|Co-pay due from me||$75|
|TOTAL PAID TO MEDICAL PROVIDERS||$4,070|
So what have we learned? In five years, the contracted rate for a colonoscopy at the medical practice I visit has gone up by a third (from $3K to $4K). What else? Even though the Affordable Care Act and the insurance companies make a distinction between a diagnostic colonoscopy and a screening one, the doctor ends up getting paid the same amount. Screening scopes are supposed to be covered in full under any ACA compliant insurance; diagnostic ones are subject to deductibles and co-pays and what not, so the patient ends up paying more. [I'm not sure why both #3 and #4 weren't coded as diagnostic...that may have been a coding error. However, since I'd met my deductible by the time #4 rolled around, it may not have made much difference in my co-pay.]
The issue of medical billing, and the prices paid, is an interesting one, which is why I am putting this out there.
If you too are interested, the New York Times series spun off into a Paying Till it Hurts Facebook group - "a forum for conversation, analysis and insight into health care pricing and costs in the United States".
And, by the way, I'm fine. I just seem to have a propensity towards polyps.