As you may or may not know, I was unexpectedly hospitalized in March. I spent about 36 hours in Carolinas Medical Center, which is part of the Carolinas Healthcare System. It’s a good hospital. Both our daughters were born there. It’s part of the neighborhood.

My bill for the 36 hours of intravenous antibiotics, a CAT scan, some lab work, and a few shots of morphine was $18,000. Or about $500 per hour. I saw a doctor for all of about 30 minutes during my stay. Thanks to years and years of paying expensive monthly insurance premiums, I’m only responsible for about $5,000 of the tab. No, it’s not $18,000, but $5,000 is enough to affect my family’s finances fairly significantly. Thank God it was only a bacterial infection. I can’t imagine having something really serious.

Last October, we took a trip to Walt Disney World where we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a week. There were four of us. It cost about $3,000. We stayed in a really great room and our park tickets and meals were included in the price.  No, we didn’t have a bacterial infection that Disney made better, but we did laugh a lot, spent quality family time together and rode really cool rides. In the end, we felt like it was money well-spent. For the amount they charged for 36 hours in the hospital we could have stayed at Disney World for 6 weeks.

As an American, I’m all in favor of capitalism. Free enterprise means that we can earn as much money as we can doing whatever we want within legal boundaries. The only real downside to capitalism is that once a man learns how to make money, the concept can consume him. His priorities shift. He spends more time at work than with his family. He is motivated by power and incented by material wealth. He guards his stockpile closely and is prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure that what’s his stays his. To hell with what might seem fair. Nothing personal, it’s just business.

Granted, most of us don’t go to these extremes. And yes, I’m aware that there are very successful capitalists who give back to society. But where capitalism doesn’t exactly work for me, is in healthcare. In fact, when I think about how some people and companies profit from the universal fallibilities of our species – it makes me ill. When we break, we have to rely on other humans for repair. And because this is America, we allow people to earn money providing services to fix us when we’re broken. For the most part, I’ve got no problem with this. Everyone has to make a living, after all. Besides, paying doctor’s college loans requires large salaries (just don’t get me going on the price of college right now,) but $18,000 for 36 hours is insane. And I’m sure you have worse stories than mine.

I’m neither in favor of, nor opposed to President Obama’s healthcare reform. Which is to say that I just don’t know enough about it other than that most liberals think it’s a good thing, and most conservatives think it’s bad. Naturally. I have to hand it to the President for at least trying to push the idea reform so hard, however. Something IS wrong here. Something IS broken. We ABSOLUTELY need reform for a system that says a company can charge as much as they want to help human beings heal. Quality of life includes healthcare. Quality healthcare should not be exclusive to those with the ability to pay the most. God forbid they ever cure cancer with a pill. Imagine how much that pill will cost.

My brain is scattered all over this topic since I’m in the middle of having to deal with it directly, but this weekend the Charlotte Observer started a series about the massive profits of our local (non-profit) hospitals. Including the hospital I spent 36 hours in. It’s a pretty shocking story – I recommend you read it.


Jim Mitchem

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Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.