The price is not right: A need for healthcare transparency


How much does a one-hour helicopter ride cost? Not the touristy, let's check out some mountaintops kind of ride. I've done that; it costs about $70 per person. I'm talking about a helicopter ride that flies you from one hospital to the next. Would you venture a guess at $58,000?

Let me back up for a minute. I have a friend with a heart condition who recently had to be air transferred from a small, regional hospital to a major medical center. The ride took one hour--and yes, she was charged just short of $60,000.

She was eight months pregnant and experiencing what she believed to be pre-term labor pains, so she checked in at the emergency room of her local hospital. When a nurse almost administered a drug that would have interfered with my friend's heart medications, the doctors made the decision to medevac her to the medical center four hours away by car.

The hospital chose to air transport her to the major medical center--without informing either her or her husband of the exorbitant costs associated. Integral to the problems in healthcare is the lack of price transparency. To not explain the costs of medical services, including extremely high fees like a helicopter ride, ultimately forces patients to make decisions in the dark and potentially suffer the financial consequences later.

My friend is fortunate enough to have insurance and won't have to pay any part of the $58,000 fee. But imagine if she and/or her husband were uninsured and were suddenly blindsided by a $58,000 bill for a medical service they didn't even request.

And while I'm at it, why is it I can enjoy a sightseeing helicopter trip for just $70--also for an hour--when another chopper ride costs $58,000? There's no way to even realistically compare those two numbers. We're talking about three orders of magnitude difference between $70 and $58,000.

We know that during major catastrophes price gouging is illegal. But why is this situation any different? My friend has a chronic medical condition that necessitated the trip. It wasn't some kind of luxury experience they chose over making a long drive for a routine doctor checkup.

Now I understand my sightseeing chopper ride had no paramedics or other medical professionals on board. But even if you account for their wages during the trip, the end amount is still exorbitantly high.

Can you imagine if during hurricane evacuation it cost $58,000 to gas up your car? Or during an emergency you absolutely have to fill your gas and you'll just find out the total cost at a later date? That's an insane scenario in any industry outside healthcare.

It's this type of situation that price gouging is designed to prevent. Just because my friend has a chronic condition doesn't mean helicopter companies, hospitals or insurers should be allowed to take advantage of the situation.

There has to be a better way. Price transparency is a definite step in the right direction. Ensuring realistic prices is another step toward a solution. - Dina (@HealthPayer)