Former US Surgeon General’s Own Medical Experience Highlights the High Cost of Health Care and Need for Price Transparency

By Consumers for Quality Care, on March 20, 2024

Former US Surgeon General’s Own Medical Experience Highlights the High Cost of Health Care and Need for Price Transparency

An emergency room visit for dehydration resulted in a $5,000 bill, coming as a shock to the consumer that received this bill, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, according to Business Insider. Now, Adams is drawing attention to a health care system he calls “broken.”

Adams recently went for a hike when he began to feel lightheaded. He was treated at the Mayo Clinic emergency department, where he had some tests performed, received a few IV bags, and was sent on his way.

Months later, Adams received a bill from the Mayo Clinic for thousands of dollars. The bill was a surprise even to Adams, who is well-versed in the shortcomings of our country’s health care system. Adams, attempting to get some answers as to why his bill was so much, spent hours on the phone with the hospital’s billing department, an ordeal he called “mentally taxing.”  

He sympathized with average Americans that try to navigate the complexities of the health care system. “If I’m in this situation with my knowledge and with my financial resources and with my bully pulpit, then the average Joe doesn’t stand a chance. The system is just broken.”

The high cost of health care, lack of price transparency, the inability to shop around for emergency care, and high deductible health insurance plans that leave many consumers underinsured are some of the contributing factors that have left 20 million Americans in medical debt.

While Adams is still waiting to receive an itemized bill, he believes there are two main reasons for why his care was so expensive. First, his case was coded at the highest level of severity, which comes with a high price tag. Adams believes his case was not as severe as what the emergency department determined. Second, Adams has a high deductible insurance plan. In his case, he must pay $7,500 for medical care out-of-pocket before his insurance will kick in.

Continued lack of price transparency means consumers too often delay or avoid seeking medical care for fear of not knowing how much a procedure will cost, or fear of going into medical debt. “People are so scared of these bills due to lack of transparency. They actually just don’t go in at all until it truly does become an emergency,” said Adams.

Having insurance is not enough. CQC urges lawmakers and insurers to find solutions to make sure that insurance truly acts like insurance and to ensure consumers don’t need to go into medical debt for seeking the care they need.