Select Page

Stupendous: Causing astonishment or wonder. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

Following my effort to be more organized, an old invoice from the Chamberlain Hospital and Sanitarium turned up the other day like a page from a South Dakota history book.

Which it was, in a way.

Attached to the invoice was a cancelled check, signed by my dad, in the amount of $49.40.

The date was Jan. 1, 1948, and the check covered my mother’s stay in the hospital for my birth eight days earlier, on Christmas Eve.

The charges were carefully itemized: Room, board and general care, $22.  Delivery room service, $10. General medications, $3.40. Dressings, $1. Ether anesthetic, $5. Care of baby, family, eight days, $8.  Amount due: $49.40.

Our nation is embroiled in a debate over health care and its costs. How it will turn out is not known, but what is known is this: Health care costs to individuals and companies have far, far outstripped wages for most Americans.

Some years ago, the state Legislature passed a law that required hospitals to post charges for common procedures on a public web page.

Here’s what it costs today to have a baby at the Sanford Medical Center in Chamberlain: $8,372.

The stupendous increase from $49.40 to $8,372 for a routine birth boggles the mind. The 16,847 percent growth was so large my calculator could not compute it.

If normal inflation were applied to that $49.40, the cost would be $539.64.

Most families could handle that cost with no problem. And if other medical procedures reflected a normal inflationary increase, we wouldn’t be having the national debate today on how to replace Obamacare.

The cost of having a baby is more in other places. WalletHub, a personal finance website, reports that the price tag of a conventional delivery averages more than $10,000 nationwide. However, the cost in other South Dakota hospitals is similar to Chamberlain Sanford.

The causes of the explosion in health care costs are many, and the usual suspects are the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, and the remarkable inefficiency of a bloated federal bureaucracy. But one party often not mentioned is the consumer. We want the best and we want it now, for us and for our families.

Because of escalating costs for care and for insurance premiums, it’s a major mess, and a solution, or at least a better approach, still seems a long way off.

March 28, 2017