60% of bankruptcies – more than 2 million per year’ are so-called ‘medical bankruptcies’, when families are confronted with healthcare costs as catastrophic  as the disease symptoms.

Tonight I am reading The Ultimate Sacrifice | The Health Care Blog, in which Dr. John MAA writes movingly of a personal story behind that scary statistic.  An uncle’s sudden jaundice symptoms reveal liver cancer; 72 hours after the diagnosis, he has run up an incredible $250,000 in medical bills. 

For anyone counting, that’s just a hair under $3,500 per day to receive what can only be described as non-aggressive care.

Dr. Maa relates how the family refused to have the uncle transferred to ICU because of the cost; the hospital’s nephrologist refused to put the uncle on dialysis, given the uncle’s advanced cancer and inability to pay. 

When the uncle’s health briefly rallied, he  gave a ‘do not resuscitate’ order, declining surgery the money for which that would, in his words ‘provide my daughter’s educations’. 

Dr. Maa’s starkly contrasts his  uncle’s health care costs with the opportunity cost of the resources spent elsewhere: ambulance transport was $1700 per trip.   Each dialysis session equated to one month of college tuition.  Blood work costs the same as a year of textbooks.  Daily hospital room charges were equal to a semester of dormitory housing.  Anesthesia charges equaled a full year of cafeteria meals.

In the end, Dr. Maa’s uncle made the decision to ration his health care.  And though many in the political arena are quick to blame the provider side of our health care system for the health care costs that contribute to the millions of annual medical bankruptcies, Dr. Maa wonders how his uncle had for decades paid his health insurance premiums while
employed; after the recession took his job, paying cash for health care meant going broke for health that simply proved too costly.

Having to pay out of pocket for medical care costs is often catastrophic for the uninsured and underinsured; medical travel removes not just  geographical borders and barriers to top quality health care, it removes economic barriers to high quality, affordable health care as well. 

More and more companies are outsourcing health care  for their employees through programs such as Global Medical Conexions and Blue Cross’ Companion Global Health, particularly for procedures such as hip replacement and hip resurfacing, dental care and non-emergency cardiovascular interventions.