Lesson learned . . . . Ouch.
This week, a friend of mine who wasn't feeling well went to see the doctor, and the doctor thought she really ought to go to the Emergency Room to see about getting some additional tests. "I don't have any insurance," my friend said. "Where should I go?" "Bellevue Hospital. It's public, but they've got NYU doctors, they can't refuse to treat you, and they'll have a sliding scale for the cost." With that, the doctor gave her an address, and I hopped on the train with my friend (nobody should have to experience an E.R. alone). We found the intersection the doctor mentioned and pushed right through the E.R. waiting room doors with the NYU logo above them. After an hour or so, my friend was seen by a doctor, they decided that she didn't need any more tests. Great! The doctor wrote out a prescription and suggested we walk over to Bellevue to have it filled. "I thought this was Bellevue!" my friend exclaimed. "Oh no," the doctor replied, "most of us work there, too, but this is the private hospital, much more expensive." It turned out her brief visit at the private hospital with the Bellevue doctors would cost her $1,000. Shock turned to horror turned to panic, and we asked to speak with a social worker who could help us figure out her options. Leaving the hospital, we took a different route and passed Bellevue, where my friend decided to see just how much this error of ignorance (and a difference of about 5 city blocks) was going to cost. She walked right up to the E.R. intake window and asked what a visit cost without insurance. "A couple hundred bucks," said the guy behind the little glass pane. Of course, even people with insurance encounter similar problems. When we go out of network, have a deductible, or pay coinsurance for something, the cost of our care affects us, too. It's something we're thinking about a lot at Freelancers Union, and in the coming year it's our hope that we'll find more ways to help members figure this stuff out . . . before they find themselves meeting with the social worker.