Unable to afford health insurance, Dee Dee Dodd had for years been mixing occasional doctor visits with clumsy efforts to self-manage her insulin-dependent diabetes, getting sicker all the while.
In one 18-month period, Ms. Dodd, 38, was rushed almost monthly to the emergency room, spent weeks in the intensive care unit and accumulated more than $191,000 in unpaid bills.
That is when nurses at the Seton Family of Hospitals tagged her as a “frequent flier,” a repeat visitor whose ailments — and expenses — might be curbed with more regular care. The hospital began offering her free primary care through its charity program.
With the number of uninsured people in the United States reaching a record 46.6 million last year, up by 7 million from 2000, Seton is one of a small number of hospital systems around the country to have done the math and acted on it. Officials decided that for many patients with chronic diseases, it would be cheaper to provide free preventive care than to absorb the high cost of repeated emergencies.
With patients like Ms. Dodd, “they can have better care and we can reduce the costs for the hospital,” said Dr. Melissa Smith, medical director of three community health centers run by Seton, a Roman Catholic hospital network that uses its profits and donations to provide nearly free care to 5,000 of the working poor. Over the last 18 months, Ms. Dodd’s health has improved, and her medical bills have been cut nearly in half.
It’s cool to have $191,000 in unpaid bills. It’s also cool to try to run a business where people continually welsh on hundreds of thousands of dollars they owe you because they don’t have the money to pay you. That’s why America has the finest health care system in the world. Seriously, we need universal health care with a basic affordable package available for everyone, and bells and whistles available at additional cost. It’s the only moral thing to do and it will be a lot cheaper, too.