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February 21st, 2013
12:10 PM ET

Is your wallet weeping from high health care costs? TIME’s Steven Brill explains in their new cover piece 'Bitter Pill'

Despite President Barack Obama's sweeping health care legislation, medical costs continue to rise every year in the U.S. This week's TIME cover story "Bitter Pill: Why medical bills are killing us" takes an exhaustive look at exactly why the bills are piling so high for so many Americans.

According to the report, published in partnership with CNN, the U.S. will spend roughly $2.8 trillion on health care this year. That is 27% more per capita than most other developed nations, which amounts to an extra $750 billion. TIME magazine contributor Steven Brill joins “Starting Point” to discuss his story and break down the exorbitant health care costs.

In his research, Brill found that two economies exist in this country: one comprised of regular Americans, and the other is the health care economy. The health care economy 'is prospering, it's thriving, adding jobs all the time, everybody's making money,” Brill says.

“GE is making money on CAT scans, and your favorite local hospital you think is non-profit hospital is making tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” he says.

Early on in his article, Brill discusses the “chargemaster,” which is a “7,000, 10,000 item schedule of fees so everything that happens to you at the hospital whether it's outpatient or inpatient or even in a lab has a charge.” He explains, “If someone hands you a tissue that might be $1 or $2. If you get...a blood test that is totally routine, which costs the hospital basically nothing, that could be $150 at one hospital, it could be $250 at another hospital. Nobody can explain why.”

Brill says that besides the hospital and doctors, an insurance company will also get a discount off the chargemaster. “But your insurance company will probably get a 40% discount, maybe a 50% discount, but a 50% discount off of a $25 bill for Niacin is still a lot of money for the hospital,” he says.

Brill adds that “the hospital CEOs are making $2, $3, $5 million a year. The hospitals are making exorbitant profits and the fundraiser you go to probably accounts for one half of 1% of their revenue. The real revenue is from the Niacin pills but it’s also from the cancer drugs where they might charge the patient $10,000 or $11,000. It might cost them $4,000 and it might cost the drug company $100 or $200.”

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. James

    Health care costs are too high in the states. I just hope the government will help us out and lighten the load on our wallets.

    March 23, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. brakesmith

    Not discussed in the wonderful Steve Brill Time Mag March 4th Article is MEDICARE ADVANTAGE. That is proof positive that private enterprise can make profit yet offer great service at Medicare cost structure. My coverage here in Central Florida offers very low co-pays, a yearly fitness membership, and real value at a cost far lower than Medicare and a Blue/AARP supplemental cost. I figure I save about $2500 per year($5000 including wife). Yet the MEDICARE ADVANTAGE supplier IS a for profit organization. These suppliers are paid abot 14% over the average amounts paid to the doctors/hosptital to cover the admin fees of a CMS.

    March 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Andy

    Yes its is very much true. Few years ago they used to pay staff bonuses. Now they don't. These bonuses go the directors and Executives of the hospital. Another trend is they hire new graduates and pay them nothing. This is very unethical on their part.

    February 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ron

    Steven, You may want to investigate an even larger issue that applies to the medical industry. I'm talking about doctors who falsely diagnose patients with medical conditions so they can put them through a lot of unnecessary diagnostic testing and collect the fees from medicare, medicaid, and private insurance companies. Take a look at medical reports from people who have seen doctors, have been put through testing, and, without their knowledge, have been diagnosed with medical conditions that they don't actually have and had no idea that they were diagnosed with them. Then question the doctors who made the diagnoses and see what they say. I believe that this is a much bigger waste issue than the hospital billing issue. If you need more detailed explanation of what I am talking about, please contact me.

    February 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. qualityhealthcareplease

    This is a very important topic. But, where are the big solutions? Where are the diagrams of a new way to do things? We need some choices of a coherent plan not just bits and pieces. Where is plan A, plan Q and plan Z? Those plans actually fix our health care system because they are coherent and transparent? Life expectancy is not as good as other countries, infant mortality is also worse, the US ranks near Costa Rica for health care quality. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MAKING A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER?

    February 21, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Becky

    I was so happy to see this article about the high cost of medical bills, that it gave me hope that just maybe someone will investigate all medical facilities cost as well as medication cost and then the high cost of medical insurance.
    To me this is possibly the largest financial problem for all Americans. It is all we work for now is to pay for medical insurance and medical bills. Even if your employer pays 100% of the medical insurance their rates go up each year and thus take more money away from being able to hire more employees.The Obama plan will not change these cost at all. And I believe this is what has to be addressed.
    And on the insurance side, someone please take a look at the homeowners insurance rates that keep going up and up as well, especially here in Florida. Thank you CNN for bringing this story to the American audience.

    February 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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