Medical bills: Believe the hype

About six years ago I was a scarcely employed 24-year old without health insurance. One night, quite completely out of the blue, my back went out. I was lying in bed watching television and my back just stopped working. I couldn't move my neck or arms, sit up or bend over, nothing.  Fortunately I was not alone and my friend helped me into the car and took me to the ER at Los Angeles' famous Cedar-Sinai Medical Center.

I was there for about an hour; they gave me an X-ray; the diagnosis was a muscle spasm; the cure was Ibuprofen. 

This is the bill I received:

Central Services: $305.82
Laboratory: $962.60
Electrocardiogram: $507.58
Imaging: $1,214.77
Pharmacy: $287.27
Emergency dept: $806.57
CT Scan: $2810.69
Self-administered drugs (this must be the little paper cup the pills come in): $15.47
Thoracic spine, AP & LAT w/ Swimmers (I have no idea what any of this means): $91.00
Chest, single view: $61.00
CTA Chest: $287.00
Urinalysis: $11.75
Hematocrit/hemaglobin: $16.00
Blood CT & DIFF ER (I dunno what this is, either): $16.00
Pro Time Rou (Nope, sorry): $18.25
Chemical Group 1: $36.75

Total: $7,448.52

I never paid that bill, I just filled out a form that said I was destitute and that they'd just have to deal with it. In order to obtain that form, I had to spend hours on the phone and then go back to the Medical Center and find a very small office which was the only place the form could be obtained.

Cut to six years later: I've been really sick for the last couple of days. Normally I just tough it out (read: whine, cry, hide, etc.) until I feel better, but as I've just started a new job and had to miss two days in the first week, responsibility compels me to treat this with more seriousness.

Having only acquired health insurance in the last year or two and being in relatively good health, I never got around to choosing a regular doctor. The physician I've since researched and want to visit can't see me until Wednesday of next week, which is out of the question. On a friend's recommendation, I'm going to a local Urgent Care facility. I've never been to such a place, but my understanding is that you walk in and wait your turn, kind of like the situation in an Emergency Room. 

I have pretty good health insurance now and I'm not in any pain, really, so it will be interesting to see how today's experience compares to that of six years ago. 


My Urgent Care experience was relatively orgasmic. The office was in Beverly Hills with a lovely waiting room and friendly/sassy receptionist. It was the end of their day and the doctor was preparing to leave, but the receptionist helped me get seen almost immediately. The doctor was a cool, middle-aged Iranian dude who listened to everything I had to say, asked questions, and gave me some advice along with a prescription for something that'll fix me right up. He was a total pro and very friendly so I will definitely see him again just as a general practitioner. With my Blue Shield insurance, the visit was just $35.00.

The doctor sent me to a nearby mom-and-pop pharmacist to pick up  my prescription. Again, with my Blue Shield insurance, the drugs cost $3.00. 

Total: $38.00.

Seriously, after contemplating that bill, the rush of endorphins I experienced was probably strong enough to cure the plague. 

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Reader Comments (6)

I had to recently go to an urgent care place when I got the monster strep right after moving here, and it was a far more pleasant and quick experience than any doctor I've been to. And while I'm uninsured, the cost was surprisingly affordable for an examination, antibiotics and steroids (under $100).

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterxtop

"Thoracic spine, AP & LAT w/ Swimmers"

Those are just different x-rays they did of your spine; front to back, side to side, and one with a raised arm.

Also, being uninsured, I get all my medical treatment at either migrant/"neighborhood" health clinics or Planned Parenthood.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJonelle

If you bitch enough at the receptionists they somehow magically find a spot for you with the physician you want to see. You just gotta keep harassing them. Urgent Care is good too, depending on how busy they are. Good luck and hope you feel better, sounds like lil miss stepho is takin' good care of ya ;)

P.S. Emergency Rooms fuck you over. $7,000 bill is pretty lucky...sad as that is.....

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChrissie

Heh. God don't even remind me about insane medical bills.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalice

I agree urgent care is very cost effetive. I don't have insurance so no regualr DR. But go to urgent Care( thought i had strep) it was $80, mind you they normally take insurance. Actually gorwing up we always went to urgent care even for regular routine stuff.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKQ

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