Hospital care accounts for a third of the nation’s $3 trillion in annual spending for medical services. And not only are these charges increasing—and driving up health costs—they’re infuriating patients and their families. Who can make heads or tails of hospital bills? And if consumers do, will they discover billing practices that only anger them more?
Elizabeth Rosenthal, a seasoned journalist, accomplished medical correspondent, and a non-practicing doctor, has created a stir with “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.” It’s her new best-seller, and was excerpted recently in the New York Times Magazine.
The book and magazine story delve, in part, into the sausage-making aspects of medical billing. These systems have enslaved American health care. They turn on bulky, balky coding systems that provide a short-hand summary for every therapy that patients receive from providers—physicians and hospitals. In turn, payers—patients, insurers, and Uncle Sam—rely on the codes to determine fees they will fork over for services and materials. In between are platoons of coders and billing experts for payers and providers, warring over ever number and the money they represent.