From some of the highest drug prices in Europe to bloated bureaucracies, there must be a dozen reasons why healthcare in Germany is an expensive mess – about 8% of gross wages for those on the public plan, and rising.
A few years ago, during what turned out to be the longest stretch I’ve ever had to endure in a hospital, I got a good look at two of those reasons.
It started out as a routine blood test at my family doctor.
“This doesn’t look good” he says when showing me the results. “You’ve got to see a specialist about this as soon as possible.”
So I get an appointment at a specialist who performs an ultrasound, along with another blood test. When the tests come back he hums and haws, says it could be this or that, but to find out for sure, we have to take a tissue sample. Jab a hollow tube through my liver and rummage through what they pull out.
“Just a couple of nights in the hospital,” he tells me.
I get sent to a third doctor, the one who’s going to be taking care of the hospital visit, who performs the third blood test in about three weeks, which comes back with the very same results.
Upon admission to hospital a couple of weeks later, they take another two blood tests, one on admission, another the next day.
“Look,” I tell them. “I don’t understand. I’ve got an arm like a junkie’s with all these needles. Why do I have to get a new blood test every time I’m sent to a new doctor?”
“Because that’s the way we do it here,” they tell me. “You may be referred to another doctor, but they have to take a new test each time. They can’t take the results of the former doctor at face value.”
I wondered how many billions each year are wasted that way, but it was the hospital visit itself that really opened my eyes to the way the system is set up to rip us all off.
Not only did they only perform the tissue sample the morning of my third day after admission, already forcing me to stay one more night than I’d planned for, but they also arranged to have me undergo a colonoscopy a few days later, because the tissue sample showed nothing abnormal, and they wanted to “make sure we aren’t missing anything.”
That was on a Friday, and they told me I’d have to spend the entire weekend in the hospital waiting for the colonoscopy to get underway the following Tuesday.
What? Wait f0ur full days in hospital when I feel perfectly healthy just to prepare for another procedure that might not even be necessary?
“Screw you,” I told them. “I am not spending five minutes in this dump more than I have to.”
Dump? More like an asylum. My time until then had been spent enduring the ravings of an attention-starved recovering alcoholic in the bed beside me, who, completely oblivious to the impact his constant ramblings and interruptions had on the rest of us, actually woke me up the night before the tissue sample, because he couldn’t sleep and so was watching his personal TV at 3 in the morning. Mostly to get away from him, I packed up and left that Friday afternoon, signing a waiver on my way out saying that whatever happened to me that weekend was my own doing.
After a beautiful weekend hiking the storm-swept mid-winter beaches of St-Peter-Ording with K and the little red-haired girl, I showed up Monday morning at the hospital, spent a day drinking gallons of some vile solution turning my backside into a storm drain, submitted myself to an invasion by a 12-foot black plastic snake, and spent a day and a half recovering. The only thing I was grateful for was their generous application of Demerol. I liked it so much, I’d have let them do it again just to get more of the stuff.
I told my family doctor all this and he replied with what I’d been thinking all along. “I’m really sorry you had to go through all that, but hospitals do that all the time.. Every night you stay there is worth a lot of money to them. They maximise the time you have to stay so they can turn around and bill the health funds. There’s really nobody checking to see if what they do is really necessary.”
To top it all off, I received a bill from the hospital for the daily user fee we all have to pay. They completely disregarded the two nights over the weekend I had left the hospital, billing me for the full nine days.
I paid for seven with a note and a letter explaining why, with proof I wasn’t there and all the rest, but the bureaucrats ignored it. Instead I received a nasty notice threatening me with legal action and all associated additional costs if I didn’t buck up for the two days I did not stay in their comfortable surroundings.
So I paid for those two days just to get them out of my hair, only to find out a few weeks later from my healthcare people that I shouldn’t have, and that I could get the money back if I applied for it.
But by then I was so glad to have the whole sorry mess behind me I didn’t bother.