Michael Shopenn, a 67-year-old architectural photographer and amateur snowboarder, has undergone a hip surgery that represents the apotheosis of all that is wrong in the United States health care system: regulations and middlemen combine to make the cost of services uniquely and irrationally high.
After years of physical activity, Shopenn contracted arthritis, which severely exacerbated an old sports injury of his. His pain was so debilitating that he could barely stand for more than a few moments, and, as is increasingly common today, he decided he had no choice but to have a hip replacement. And because his pain was linked to an old sports injury, or a “pre-existing condition,” Shopenn’s insurance company refused to cover the costs of the operation. Soon discovering that the ultimate price of the replacement and his recovery would be at least $78,000, over a third of his retirement fund, Shopenn was forced to either find an alternate means of treatment or an alternate system in which to receive treatment.
It became clear that Belgium was a perfect place for Shopenn to attain the safe, effective implant he needed — and at a mere fraction of the cost he would pay in the United States.
If one were to buy the prosthetic hip oneself directly from the manufacturer at a wholesale price, one would pay about $13,000. Shopenn’s Belg surgeon provided a new hip, successfully implanted it, allowed 5 days of rest, medicine, and care in the hospital, a week of rehab, and funded a round trip ticket to the United States for just $13,660. There was no government money subsidizing these services, nor any from Shopenn's health insurance company. Belgium just has a much more cost efficient health care system and boasts equal if not greater results.
There is no doubt that health care costs in the United States are unreasonably high. There is also no tangible difference, however, between the quality of services rendered in the United States and those in Belgium or similar nations. The difference is that in the United States, after the prosthetic hip is manufactured for the cost of about $350, it must travel through a system that is riddled with middlemen. Specific parts manufacturers, government bureaucracies, health service sales companies, hospitals with contracts to uphold, and others all contribute to a vastly-escalated price that the customer must pay at the end of the operation.
The United States is in dire need of a healthcare overhaul — and not necessarily what the Affordable Care Act promises. What the health care system needs is fewer trivial regulations and complications. The system needs to be gutted and reformed.
Government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and various trade agreements impose crippling costs on foreign-made implants and generic brands, and these costs are either relayed to patients or altogether deter foreign companies from competing in U.S. markets. There are collective monopolies functioning in the health care service industry, with myriad interest groups tacking on unnecessary charges at every step of the way.
If the ultimate goal really is for every American to have access to quality health care, then there is no excuse for failing to execute minor deregulatory measures that might make all the difference.