How much do 3 stitches cost?

A friend cut his hand (crotch of the thumb and forefinger) with a carpet knife at work a few weeks back. He has no insurance and no workers comp. He also doesn’t have a car or a drivers license. It was a four block walk to Miami Valley Hospital emergency room- and about a mile to the closest “doc in a box/ urgent care” at the corner of Patterson and Stewart (if it’s still there).

He opted to go to MVH. It was a six hour visit. The bill from the doc came yesterday (there may still be one from the hospital).

  • Repair simple S to 2.5 cm $258
  • Extended exam $277
  • Total: $535

The invoice listed a woman as the care provider- yet, the only woman he saw was a billing clerk. The guy who sewed him up- only took 10 minutes to scrub it out, numb it and throw three quick stitches in.

When I was in the Army, our Special Forces medics routinely would take care of issues like this. Total training was completed in under a year and a half (this includes how to jump out of airplanes, shooting exotic weapons while rappelling out of helos and knowing how to camp with the best of them). We even had medics doing vasectomies with a doctors supervision.

Somehow, our medical system has become as broken as our financial system.

There is no reason for three stitches to cost $535 or for treatment to take 6 hours. Even at $250 an hour, with a half hour minimum charge- this shouldn’t be more than $125 plus some silk and supplies costing less than $25.

Can anyone defend these practices? Can anyone tell me why a doctor can’t set a rate before working on a patient? How can we consider ourselves leaders of the free world when in any other industrialized country this would be taken care of by universal health care coverage?

The bad news is- since the bill is so incredibly high, it’s unlikely that my friend will be able to pay (the bill is double his weekly pay), so we’ll all be told that we have to pay higher premiums to cover his lack of coverage. And this is how a “free market system” works?

[UPDATE: Feb 14, 2009]

The hospital bill came-
$39.38 for “Medical surgical supplies and devices- General
$249 for Emergency Room- General
$600 for Emergency Room- Other ER
Total, in addition to the $535 above- another $888.38
Total for 3 stitches: $1423.38 or $474.46 per stitch.
It’s time to start talking about taxing MVH for their property. If this is a “public service” I’ll be damned- it’s more like a robbery.

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