This is a story about two events; one where an 18-month-old child gets very sick and another about how life has changed in the last 25 years.
We had just returned from a road trip to Maryland. Sarah seemed to have a cold that was getting worse and we had decided that the next morning she would have to see the doctor. But shortly after being put to bed, it was clear that she couldn’t breathe and we bundled her up and went to St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency room. The chest x-ray showed that her lungs were clear and we returned home.
After another attempt to put Sarah down for the night, her breathing got even worse. So once again, we bundled her up and went back to St. Luke’s. They told us her condition was continuing to deteriorate and they were calling for a special emergency team from Children’s to transport her to Boston Children’s Hospital about 60 miles away. We went home, packed a bag, and were two very frightened parents following the ambulance to Boston.
For those not familiar with this hospital, here is a link Boston Children’s. This hospital is a magical place. From the moment we walked in the door, we were treated like royalty. There were people explaining what was going on. There were rooms for us to stay over night. And we had complete and unfettered access to Sarah, night and day.
Sarah was first put in quarantine because of the possibility of RSV. With nothing left to do at that point, we went to our rooms, took a shower, and got something to eat. When we returned they were changing Sarah’s bed linen and Sarah was missing. Panic! Immediately someone was explaining what was happening. Sarah had bacterial pneumonia. The staff was genuinely concerned not only for the welfare of Sarah as the patient, but also for us as the parents. They couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. From quarantine Sarah went to ICU for 3 days and then from ICU she went to a regular room for 2 more days and we were briefed on her condition as often as we needed.
At the time, we had Pilgrim Healthcare medical insurance. It cost us [what we thought was] the outrageous amount of $17 per paycheck every two weeks. The premium had just gone up from $14 a paycheck and I remember we were lamenting how expensive it was. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. It’s OK, I chuckle about it sometimes myself. Once we got Sarah back home, the realization of what this emergency was going to cost started to set in. Children’s had not asked us for anything except our insurance card. There were no checks to be written before we could leave. We braced for the bill to arrive with Boston Children’s Hospital on the envelope.
Sure enough, a few days later we both sat staring at the envelope, almost afraid to open it. We thought about the special emergency team for the long ambulance ride, the quarantine, the ICU, and even our rooms that were provided. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Sarah had received the best possible care and had completely recovered. We were treated like royalty during the whole emergency. No matter what the cost, we decided that it was worth it.
We took a deep breath and opened the envelope. There was a long list of itemized charges for everything they had done for Sarah. It came to $2500. That was a huge sum of money at that time. At the bottom it said, Amount Due: $0.00. Pilgrim Healthcare had paid for everything. We had received the best possible medical services in the country for our young daughter at no cost. We were stunned, yet very happy. We had learned a lesson about healthcare. We would never scoff at the premium costs again.
Looking back, we wonder what has happened. Premiums and medical costs are now 30 times higher for a family of three. Now the out-of-pocket costs would be 20% of the total. Even 20% of a total like that could break most families. Little by little over the years, the healthcare system has gone out of control. We look back and are thankful we lived when we did.