Am I, are we, powerless? Should we accept the nonsense? Like many of you, I have been trying to make sense of our healthcare system. I had two trips to the Tahoe Forest Hospital emergency room this winter and spring for the same condition. The first visit cost $1,619.19 and the second cost $3,522.50. This fee was shocking, since on the second visit, I told them what exactly the problem was and how it was solved previously.
When I reached out to the hospital asking why the second visit was over double the cost of the first, I was deferred to three different departments within the TFH health system that are set up to “deal” with issues like mine, and there was no movement. After a “quality review” of my care, it was deemed to be an “appropriate” service and fee assessment by hospital staff. I paid my bill to avoid the threatened late fees. Then, I wrote a letter to Harry Weis, CEO, and the elected members of our hospital board of directors hoping for a sensible remediation of the bill or lack of follow up care and/or possible refund. As you may have guessed, my letter got me nowhere.
Let me preface the rest of this piece with a very important caveat. The individual medical professionals and office staff that I have encountered at TFH are truly wonderful, caring, thoughtful, intelligent, and hardworking humans who have treated me and my family with tremendous respect, kindness, and caring. My primary concern is about our national healthcare crisis and the role of the Tahoe Forest Hospital system and leadership, as it exemplifies the ills plaguing our healthcare system.
As I am sure you are aware, our nation has a critical health care problem. Put simply, we (citizens, government, and business) all spend too much on it, and the money we spend doesn’t yield better results; in fact we get less for our money than all other developed countries.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, “The U.S. spends more on health care as a share of the economy — nearly twice as much as the average [Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development] country — yet has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 nations.”
Major reasons cited for the exorbitant cost of healthcare include: unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, inefficiently delivered services, prices for services that are too high, fraud, and missed prevention opportunities. My 2021 experience at TFH represents each of these diseases of our health care system. I was given unnecessary tests (that were never followed up on); I was filtered through four different layers of administration; I have been unable to see the same physician enough times to have effective prevention conversations; and no one can agree on the cost of services. (It’s a daily battle between providers and insurance companies.)
Naively, I thought I might have some power to negotiate with the hospital to reach an outcome that seemed to make sense: same problem, same treatment, same bill. I reached out to all of the board members, but I received zero response from these people who were elected by our community to represent us.
Mr. Weis did respond; he attempted to quell my concerns with the rationale that I was lucky because he, “had a visit in the Roseville area back in 2017 that was $3,800 and all they did was take [his] vital signs.” Wait, what? Should I feel lucky? Is this what we should measure our quality of care and cost against? He also urged me and other concerned citizens to “respectfully engage in how healthcare really works.”
I am wondering how else I should “respectfully engage.” I read, I vote, I communicate with elected officials, I research, I work, I pay my bills … but I am feeling pretty powerless. I could accept the nonsense and try to stay healthy, but that is not engagement and it certainly won’t do anything to address the tragic state of our health care system.
So, I am “respectfully engaged” in this problem, Mr. Weis. I am trying to communicate with you and our local board members on behalf of people like me, but also the uninsured, those in ill health, those without the time or resources to engage. I’ll continue to read, vote, write, and I will also see you at the next board meeting. Would anyone like to join me?
~ Stephanie Bacon was born and raised in Truckee. Both her parents worked for Tahoe Forest during the 50 years her family has lived in the area. She is raising two boys and currently teaches for TTUSD while pursuing her PhD in literacy and equity at UNR.