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The case of the night splint, or why health care isn’t a free market enterprise

July 11, 2011

Photo taken from Allegromedical.com. Splint price=$32.55

This one’s a personal story.

I report on the health care system all the time, but being relatively young and healthy I don’t experience it that often. That’s changed since I decided to ramp up my running regime and gave myself plantar fasciitis.

Bascially, I experience a lot of pain in my heel and Achilles tendon especially after I walk, run, or carry heavy objects too much. The pain is usually worse when I wake up in the morning or stay still for too long.

So, I’ve been trying to get better, and that’s involved going to the foot doctor.

At my first appointment, the doctor spent about 15 minutes with me, checking out my foot and giving some advice about how to stretch and ice it. He then had me fitted for a night splint to keep my foot erect so the blood could flow through it as I slept.  The woman at the front desk charged me $45 for the splint and I went home.

Today at my follow-up appointment the woman at the front desk told me I had an outstanding bill.  “What for?” I asked. It turns out that $45 I gave them for the night splint was just a co-pay. The total cost was $220 and because I have a deductible, I’d have to pay the entire bill.

I report on this all the time- the invisible costs of health care.  If I knew a splint made of plastic and foam would cost me $220 I wouldn’t have bought one. Could it possibly be worth that much? Turns out, it’s not. Some quick googling on my smart phone revealed what looked to be the identical splint for $42.99.

When I showed the website to my doctor, he said, “Well, we don’t know if it’s the same quality. You could probably go to J.C. Penney and find the dress you’re wearing for cheaper, but maybe not.”

He says his office buys the splints for $95 dollars.  Still, that means the doctors more than DOUBLE the price when they bill health insurance/patients.

The doctors here aren’t totally to blame. My doctor told me he pretty much has to take whatever insurance decides to pay him for his work.

Eventually, he  gave  me a break because of my high deductible and adjusted the bill to reflect the actual cost of the splint. Still, what about all of the patients that aren’t health care reporters or don’t know how to fight down the cost of their medical care?

By the way, I asked for the brand name of my night splint and found it online for an even cheaper price- $32.55. Would have been nice to know the cost ahead of time. Then I could just buy it myself for less than the co-pay.

When you hear a discussion about how we’re going to fix our health care system, and where the free market fits in, think about my night splint and whether or not patients are getting a good deal.

Can you imagine a store that sold you a pair of shoes with no price tag and then months later charged you more than double the retail price after you’d already worn them?

Anyone out there have a similar experience?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen McAninch permalink
    July 11, 2011 10:16 pm

    We paid $59.03 last December for a similar splint at RI Foot Care – not sure if that was 20% for durable medical equipment or the full price

    • July 11, 2011 11:13 pm

      Karen-did you have plantar faciitis too? Did the night splint work? Wearing that thing in the summer is no fun. I’m still in a bit of pain and cursing my splint even more now that I know how much it cost!

      • Karen McAninch permalink
        July 12, 2011 12:00 am

        No, my husband Steve did – and he wasn’t sure it did any good (although, to be fair, it was gone in a week, so maybe it did work).

  2. July 11, 2011 11:12 pm

    To be fair, your doctor has nothing to do with cost. You should be upset at the hospital/insurance company for “negotiating” that price with the medical goods company.

    • July 12, 2011 1:49 pm

      Hi Tiatracka-

      Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Why did my insurance plan verify the price by taking $220 out of my deductible? Why was the original price so much higher than what I could find online? But I do believe the doctors office should take some responsibility for knowingly selling splints at such inflated prices.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Bruce McIntyre permalink
    July 12, 2011 11:03 am

    I had the exect same foot problem. My podiatrist gave me the same splint free. Of course, a previous one charged me $250 for orthotics that were totally unecessary and didn’t work. This is a huge problewm and his response was inappropriate.

    • July 12, 2011 1:51 pm

      You too Bruce? I’m probably pretty near my $1,000 yearly deductible just trying to treat this foot problem. Haven’t run in months. What worked for you?

      • Bruce McIntyre permalink
        July 13, 2011 9:38 am

        The free foam splint keeps the tendons and calf muscles stretched. End of plantar facitis. A frozen bag of peas to get the swelling down is good too.

  4. July 14, 2011 7:42 pm

    “He then had me fitted for a night splint to keep my foot erect so the blood could flow through it as I slept.” Did the fitting affect the cost? Was is molded to your foot or was it off the shelf?

    • July 18, 2011 10:26 pm

      Hi Art-

      In this case “fitted” means a nurse took the splint and pulled on the Velcro till it was tight enough. So there was no molding going on.

      Thanks for reading!

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