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Published: Summer, 2004; Vol 6, Num 3

 

Controlling Health Care Costs through Personal Choices

Health care costs are skyrocketing. Laborers and their families can help contain these costs in two ways.

One, they can stay healthy. This requires a holistic approach - balanced diet, regular exercise, a positive mental attitude and regular health check-ups with the family doctor.

Two, they can avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Take a look at the recent experience of Mary Jane MacArthur, the Health Promotion Division Director at the LHSFNA.

She has two teenage children, both of whom suffered injuries last month.

One Friday morning, she got a call at the office from her son's school nurse. Tucker had hurt his hand, and it looked like it might be broken. When she picked him up, the hand was obviously swollen and he couldn't move his fingers, but he made no complaints of severe pain. MacArthur called the family physician's office, and the nurse advised her to take him to the emergency room.

"That was why I called the doctor," she explained to a reporter, "to avoid a trip to the emergency room. After I explained to the nurse that I was trying to be a responsible health care consumer, she consulted with the doctor who agreed to work us into his afternoon schedule. After examining Tucker's hand, he referred him to a radiology facility for an x-ray.

"Sure enough, it was broken. After a quick phone conversation, Tucker was referred to an orthopedic specialist for further treatment.

"It was different when my daughter got hurt. She was at a stable, and a horse stomped so hard on her foot that a toe nail came off and her foot was swelling rapidly. She was bleeding, and her pain was intense. We went straight to the emergency room.

"The ER was crowded with people waiting to see a doctor, but even my daughter commented that most of them didn't seem to be suffering or in need of immediate attention. That was confirmed a few minutes later when the doctors called us first, and we got up amid complaints of some who said, 'But I was here first.'"

Of course, the bill from the ER was high ($750), but her daughter's situation was a real emergency. "If I'd brought my son and his broken hand in that same day, he'd have been one of the ones waiting while they addressed my daughter's needs. He might have had to wait for a couple hours, and the cost of the x-ray and treatment at the hospital and follow-up visits with an orthopedic specialist, would have been about $1200. As it was, the doctor's visit, the x-ray and the casting came to $795. My health plan saved money, I saved money and Tucker got prompt, quality care."

The LHSFNA urges LIUNA members and their families to get medical care when necessary. However, before going to the emergency room, patients should consider other care settings that may be more appropriate, faster and, often, less expensive. If a situation is life-threatening, call 911 or go directly to an emergency room.

"When you or your child is injured or sick, you want to do what's right," says MacArthur. "Just remember though, it's likely that the doctor's staff has gotten into the ER habit, too. If you're not sure if it's an absolute emergency, don't hesitate to ask the doctor if the patient could be safely treated in another setting."

[Steve Clark]