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A concussion and its cost. Weeds, 3/21/12

April 12, 2012 - Randy Krzmarzick
In early December, son Ezra had a hockey game at Hutchinson, playing junior varsity for New Ulm. Since he started hockey as a 5-year old, I’d hardly missed any of his games. On this night, I stayed back for a meeting. Wife, Pam, was teaching a class.

As I was about to leave for town, I got a call from a mom at the game. In the past, such a call usually meant Ezra had scored a goal. This time I heard, “Ezra’s down on the ice…he’s not moving, and they’re getting an ambulance.” My heart raced as I tried to call Pam. Before my hands could settle enough to do that, I got a second call, this, from Billy Helget. Bill coached Ezra for years, and when he saw we weren’t there, he went down on the ice.

He reported that Ezra was conscious and could move his legs. He’d gone head-first into the boards, may have blacked out briefly, and had some numbness in one arm. The trainer wanted to be cautious and get him to the hospital on a board. As we raced to Hutchinson, the news from the emergency room was encouraging. When we got there, Ezra was still on the board and stayed there till the CT scan came back negative. The doctor said he’d gotten a concussion. He had to deal with headaches for several weeks, and missed six weeks of hockey, but obviously it could have been much worse.

Now, I have a confession to make: several times that night, amidst the real life drama, I thought, “What’s this going to cost?” We carry our own health insurance, and have gradually increased our deductible ($11,600) to the point where we really only insure for calamitous events. Ezra’s $1,000 ambulance ride, $2,000 of tests, and $1,000 for the doctor don’t qualify as calamitous.

I’ll take a healthy son and a $4,000 bill any day. Will I miss my $4,000? Quite. Was it worth it? Yes, if I want an emergency room there when Ezra goes into the boards, or we have a car accident on Highway 15, or if I have heart palpitations while visiting Hutchinson. We’ve carried our own insurance and covered our medical bills all along; you can’t give me sticker shock any more. Last year, we spent $22,509 on all medical expenses: premiums, doctor, clinic, eyes, dental. Is $22,509 a fair representation of what it costs to keep a 56 year-old man, his wife, a kid in college and one in high school maintained and running smoothly? Some of that went to doctors, our optometrist, our dentist, and pharmacists here in Sleepy Eye. Most are friends of mine, and they live well. They probably could have made more in the Cities, and I’m glad they’re here. Some of it went to the nurses, assistants, and other staff at the facilities in town; they are definitely not overpaid.

Part of that $22,509 went to the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota who made $2,908,100 last year. Most would call that too much. Is there some waste and overcharging in the $22,509? Probably. How much? $1,000 worth? Some, probably, but I can’t believe there are lots of ill begotten costs in there; I just think America works better than that. A lot of people never know how much medical care really costs. Some go from their parents’ care to a job with benefits to Medicare. We’ve always known our costs completely. Our income varies a lot with the vagaries of farming, but medical takes 20 to 40% of our income year in and year out.

I’d love to spend that 20 to 40% on a new truck. Instead, there are a whole host of diseases that aren’t going to kill me or my children. I have a good chance of living into my seventies in decent health, even eighties. God willing, my wife and I will be one of many couples of our generation to see our fiftieth anniversary. All this was rare in the world I grew up in. None is guaranteed, but our odds have increased greatly.

The rub? How do we pay for it. The 20 to 40% of my income might be 75% for someone on low income. Right now, Medicare isn’t close to paying for itself, and it gets absurdly underfunded as Baby Boomers start collecting. I’ve quit paying attention to warnings of coming apocalypse. But this alarm can’t be ignored. We have to get serious about it, and we have to begin with this: there are no easy answers. The left has to accept that there is no appetite in this country for socialized medicine, and the right has to accept the fact that government is and will be involved. None of us wants to have medical decisions made by some agency in St. Paul. But none of us wants to see the poor and elderly denied care. Right or wrong, we’re used to seeing our wealthier friends live in nicer homes. And if you live a small town, you know people with plywood on some of their windows. We accept that. But if you tell me my lawyer friend is going to get the MRI he needs and the fellow who retired from Pietrus Foods can’t, well, that doesn’t smell right. It’s the great predicament of our time. We’ve stretched out our lives and health beyond anything my grandparents could have dreamt of. But it will be a massive burden for all but the wealthiest. We probably need ideas from Republicans and Democrats to chip away at it.

On a car trip to Hutchinson in December, I was more than willing to accept the costs.


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