Utah Valley Global Health Group

A blog about global health for those living in Utah Valley and their friends.

Medical Care in the U.S. by Sachika Walden

Posted by benjamincrookston on April 10, 2008

I remember reading the article a year ago in MSN with a title: Maryland boy, 12, dies after bacteria from tooth spread to his brain.

Although I could not find the exact article (it has expired), the story was like this:

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.
If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said.

(Source from http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread270108/pg1)

I remember I was shocked reading this article. I even discussed with my husband and talked how important to have a routine checkup at least every year.

As I am from Japan, I was surprised how expensive medical care is in the United States. I don’t know if it is an actual cost, or they are trying to make a huge profit, or they are trying to cover other people’s unpaid medical bills and even out. Even without insurance, a routine checkup at the dentist is only $18 and fillings are $30 in Japan. Doesn’t it sound about right? I heard a story that people going to Mexico for fixing their teeth. They told me that they get it done cheaper for the same quality, even paying for a round trip airplane tickets.

It is sad to hear that the boy was not insured and lost his Medicaid. Money is always a big issue when you go to any kind of doctor.

I know a foreigner couple who came to UT for their honeymoon. They didn’t have travel insurance for one week of their stay. The wife got sick and had to go to the ER. Her appendix was removed and later bowel obstruction (what a honeymoon, right?). So, one week of hospitalization, the bill was $40,000. However, the hospital told them that if they pay within two weeks, the bill is going to be 50% off – what a deal. They maximized their credit cards, their parents sent them money, and went home three weeks later.

I’ve heard that some hospitals had to close down because the patients never paid the medical bills. This is a problem, too, but I strongly feel that a “reasonable” medical bill should be made, not the 50% off thing. The couple even felt that the ER doctor and nurses were not nice and service was not good. I guess the price does not equal to its quality in the US hospitals. I know that there are many public services to help medical bills, including CHIP, Medicaid, and Medicare, but I hope someday that all US citizens have reliable health insurance for affordable price. And when you travel overseas, make sure you have insurance, too!


6 Responses to “Medical Care in the U.S. by Sachika Walden”

  1. chads said

    That was a heart-breaking story, Sachika.

    An an emergency doctor here in the United States, I witness on a daily basis many of the challenges (injustices?) that you mentioned. Medical care is extremely expensive here. Many don’t have insurance. And, yes, some die of conditions (like the tragic case you mention) that are treatable and preventable.

    Perhaps you could look a little deeper into the problem. Is the case you mention isolated, or is there a systemic problem with access to pediatric dental services in the US? Have there been an increase in the number of premature deaths due to dental complications on a population level? What does the data suggest regarding antibiotic resistance?

    Anecdotes such as the one you mention are saddening and concerning. They often cause an emotional response which motivates. It seems to me, however, that action such as policy should be based on data/evidence.

    (By the way, it is not likely that the boy you mention lacked access to life-saving vaccines, and even if he did, herd immunity would have made it unlikely that he contract diseases such as measles. It is also not likely that he would have had to drink contaminated water, leading to diarrhea, or be exposed to vectors such as mosquitoes carrying malaria. In developing countries, many children don’t live long enough to have life-threatening dental infections!)

  2. Brett said

    Interesting story on NPR the other day about the cost of healthcare in Japan:


  3. chads said

    Thanks for the link, Brett. Our system is certainly broken and it seems that looking at what works elsewhere is a reasonable place to start. Having said that, it’s a daunting task! When compared to developing countries, however, there isn’t much of a comparison, in my view.

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