In life, mostly, we know how much something costs up front before making the decision to buy it. In retail stores we see price tags on items or shelves. It’s $120, but everyone needs a cashmere sweater in black, no? Nowadays you can even find scanners in the score which serve the dual purpose of identifying a price and satisfying the frustrated inner cashier in some of us.
You bring your car to the shop, they give you an estimate first, right? You want to build a deck, have your local contractor come by and work out the plans and price. You pull up to the pump, you know what you’ll be paying (reluctantly) for a gallon of gas. And menus have prices. Never do you eat a bowl of pasta then get bowled over by the price. You know up front.
But it occurred to me recently, as I seethe at a bill from my dentist, that such is not the case in medicine or dentistry. There’s no signage when you walk in an office that says:
Blood pressure reading: $50
Blood pressure and pulse combo: $75
I don’t know how much a Pap smear costs up front, nor would I be in a position to negotiate for one. (Literally.) But maybe worse than not knowing is that, really, if we did know up front, we can’t really do anything about it. We’re stuck. For those of us who are fortunate to have insurance, the only way we know how much a dentist or doctor charges is if our insurance doesn’t cover it all and we get a bill.
On a recent bill from my dentist I saw a charge of $175 for a crown recement. Even if I walked in with a crown in a coin purse because I was silly enough to eat a Sugar Daddy I’d find this high, but such was not the case. In order to prep another tooth for a crown for which they would bill me, they needed to take off an existing crown, then recement it later. But it wasn’t considered a part of the new crown prep cost. Unbelievable. And yet if I did know up front that it would cost the equivalent of 6 manicures, I could not have said, no, I’d rather you not uncement then recement my crown so that you can prep the tooth next to it for a crown. Now I’m just pissed that I’m stuck with the bill.
And yet I know I am fortunate. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live without any health or dental insurance coverage. At all. I'd have shabby hands and one less tooth, I'm sure.