Some relief needed for healthcare

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, January 8, 2003

By By James Crawford
News Editor
It's a definite sign that the holidays, and the days of never-ending cheerful thoughts, are over when all the bills start rolling in. This holiday season, however, my bunch had a few extra little goodies waiting for us in the ole' mailbox -several heart attack provoking hospital and doctor bills.
I don't mind the fact of paying for something that I need or want or giving someone a just deserved fee for services rendered. With that said, I have to take pause at the current allotment of medical bills that now sit on my kitchen counter and wonder … why in the world does medical attention cost so much?
I know we have came a long way in terms of how we treat medical problems and all that costs money, but has it came to a point that we can no longer afford to reap the benefits from technology which, although could save our lives, would drive us into bankruptcy?
The bills that I'm now faced with stem from a toothache, of all things, that my wife developed just before Christmas. Since we're new in town – and, at my job, we have a grace period between insurance policies – everyone was trying their best to stay healthy and avoid having to see a doctor, a little tooth came out of nowhere to throw our plans in a tailspin.
Although you would think a simple toothache wouldn't be that much of a deal, it became abscessed, then infected and then the nightmare began. I would've traded anything to have just had a glowing red nose problem.
The first hospital I took her to gave her penicillin for antibiotics and told her to go see a dentist as soon as possible. They wouldn't touch her mouth because they said it wasn't something they handled in the ER.
I have since learned that most ER physicians don't study problems that pertain to the mouth or the areas around the mouth in school because of the intricacies of the nerves. Instead, when confronted with a problem involving the mouth, they prefer to call in an oral surgeon trained in that specific area.
The only problem with that is, with no insurance, I couldn't afford to see a pay up front oral surgeon. The only place we could go was the bill you later ER.
The little bit of advice we did receive at the ER, just about three minutes in all, cost right at $100 for the hospital portion. I'm told to expect a doctor's bill to come later.
The penicillin is another mystery to me. With all the available medicines out there that fight off many strains of bacteria at one time, I'm told penicillin is one of the oldest and most generic forms of antibiotics used but costs just about the same as everything else.
So, I'm not sure why she wasn't given something stronger. It may have been that the doctor didn't want to take a chance not knowing more about the infection or he may have assumed we could afford to see an oral surgeon immediately and he would assess her needs better then.
We did manage to find a dentist who was kind enough to work her in a couple of days later. However, the trip resulted in a very expensive x-ray that I was later told was useless and five minutes of advice that together cost right at $90. I paid so much for it, I'm thinking of framing the x-ray and hanging it on the wall as a painting entitled medical distress.
We ended up at USA Knollwood hospital in Mobile where the emergency room doctor shot her full of demerol and took a rather large needle, drained the abscess and started her on a whole new batch of antibiotics.
It took several days, but this time the antibiotics worked. I'm told, to his credit, the ER doctor at USA is one of only a few who will work at all in a patients mouth.
I'm glad we found a doctor that would help us out, but we're paying for it dearly. The first bill so far is nearly $1,000 and we still have at least two more to receive.
As a country, we can send a man to the moon, start two wars in far-off foreign countries that cost billions per day, pay to investigate ridiculous scandals, feed those that we fight against but we can't come up with a means of providing affordable health care for our citizens.
The cost is even worse for senior citizens. My mother is considered lucky by somethat she ONLY pays $350 per month for her individual insurance and her copays are often ridiculous. I'm shaking my head as I write this column and wondering what is wrong with this picture?
We need to take a look at the spiraling costs of malpractice insurance that the medical profession faces and the lawsuit abuse that has forced many doctors in a position of having to choose to risk their own livelihoods to provide services to the very people who may sue them later for questionable causes.
It's a ridiculous circle of extremes that continues to drive the cost of health care through the roof. But it seems to take years to get congressional leaders to take notice, let alone take action. Perhaps we should model our system after England's, where taxes pay for most of the cost of health care. The government seems to always have plenty of money to throw around. Let's see them put it to good use. Either way, we are in urgent need of medical reform NOW.
I met then-presidential candidate George W. Bush once, back in Tuscaloosa, and asked him, if elected, would he straighten up all the bureaucratic mess in Washington and he said it was his top priority. I'd love to remind him of that pledge now.
James Crawford is News Editor of The Atmore Advance. He can be reached by phone at 368-2123 or by e-mail at

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