This is part 3 of a series called "Gambling On Life", my experiences in the US healthcare system. Read part 2 here.
Pain Management: Costs
It had been almost a month since my first visit with Jordan at QMG. I had been taking the Gabapentin like clockwork, and was up to 200mg morning and evening for a couple weeks now.
I was prepared for my first bill, knowing that specialists costs were going to be a little high. I had hoped for a $300 bill for my first visit; that's what my research had showed me could be my approximate bill for a first visit to a specialist.
As it turns out, my bill was $442 dollars.
Some of you who have been to other specialists know that even that bill might seem relatively low; however, keep in mind that I had 0 lab work done, where the cost skyrockets. Insurance paid for about $80; my insurance won't cover much of anything, really, until you reach a $3,500 deductible. I have a coworker who has been going through a chain of specialists recently, and has met her deductible multiple times. Still, that $3,500 can be hard to come up with.
Knowing that I would have pain management costs this year, I opted to put more in my HSA. I contributed $1,000; while I wish I could have contributed more, I have a lot of general expenses that preclude me from that. My work also contributed $250 to that, which helped immensely.
The thing about an HSA, though, is that it builds over time, rather than being immediately available; I didn't have enough money to pay for my first bill. I had clinic visits and medication on there slowly draining it away, and didn't quite have enough.
Thankfully, QMG allows you to call and spread your bill into payments. Now, if I had to pay the full $3,500, I would be out of luck, still; QMG only allows you to spread your bill into 6 monthly payments, maximum. I opted to spread it over 3, as I would have the money in my HSA by that time. As well, I'd gain another month, essentially, because they wouldn't send me my bill until it was their bill processing day.
My follow-up visit was thankfully much cheaper; since they already have an established patient profile, follow-ups don't cost as much. For me it was $177, with insurance covering none of it. This is actually lower than what I had expected, with my research showing me $200 being common for follow-ups.
Still, I can't afford to go much further, and Jordan was strongly encouraging me to go to a rheumatologist. I'll talk more about that next time. We've talked about my pain management costs; what if I had went to another medical specialist, and had lab work done?
Medical Specialist Costs
I actually have been to another specialist several years ago, and this one is fairly common.
I have severe allergies to a number of things. Most people joke that I'm allergic to everything, and it isn't far from the truth.
I went to an allergist to get updated tests done, and find a treatment path that would hopefully help me function better in the world during spring/summer/fall.
They did the scratch test. My back looked like something out of a horror film after that; they were pretty shocked at just how bad my allergies were. After putting some industrial-strength cream on my back to help relieve the extreme discomfort, we talked about my results.
One, I'm not allergic to guinea pigs. Two, I could do immunotherapy injections; I'd have to do 2 at a time, with the sheer number of substances I'm allergic to, but it was possible. I decided to go with it.. Until I got my first bill.
Medical specialists cost a lot of money when lab work is involved. Mine? It was somewhere around $1,800.
No way could I afford treatment after that.
Pain management costs are going to be more than your GP, but any medical specialists costs are going to be high. Plan for it as much as you can, and pray that yours isn't going to force you to do lab work. Note that you absolutely CAN refuse to get labs done; it does limit your options severely, and some may require it for further specialist visits in order to diagnose your specific condition, but doctors frequently do work with you (at least, the good ones do).
Next time, I'll talk about how the Gabapentin is working out, and what my next steps are in treatment.