News

Red Cross Children's Hospital: Message of Thanks

6 June 2011

This message was posted on the Children's Hospital Trust's Facebook fan page by a grateful parent of a patient at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital on Monday, June 6. The management and staff at the hospital are thankful for the continued support from the public.

The Story behind the R37 000 Hospital Bill

We got the account for Richie's operation and hospital stay from the Red Cross Children's Hospital. His week-long stay cost, all-inclusive, R37 000-odd. Government hospitals work on a sliding scale; if you earn well enough, you are liable for some costs, but for the poorest it is obviously free.

I submitted the account to my medical aid on Thursday and by Friday got a notification that the full amount would be paid to the hospital within the next few days. When you consider that a normal account for a paediatrician visit takes the medical aid a good week or two to process, you have to wonder at the unseemly haste.

Ah, there's the rub. Let's try to thumbsuck the bill had Richie stayed in a private hospital. First off, theatre time, which is so expensive it is calculated by the minute. I can't find the exact rate, but I think medical aids will pay in the region of R150 per minute of theatre time (Richie was in theatre for nine interminable hours; we are already looking at a bill of R80 000 right there).

Richie had a blood transfusion. That's damn expensive.

Because it's a government hospital, there was no charge for the surgeons and anaesthetist, who theoretically get paid monthly by government, instead of per case by the patient, as would be the case in the private sector. At private rates, we could look at another several tens of thousands of rands right there.

And we're still only on the first day of Richie's stay. He then remained in a high-care ward for four days - if you've ever been in hospital, you'll know that the daily ward fees run into the thousands, never mind the charge for specialised wards.

Another three days in a general ward.

All this for a tenth or less of what the medical aid would have been forced to pay had Richie been treated in the private sector.

Is it any wonder they paid the account as soon as humanly possible? I mean, anyone can spot a deal that good when they see it.

But more seriously, for me this is a sobering comment on the state of health care in our country. Somebody is getting rich off people's health care needs, and it isn't - this will surprise some - even those private sector doctors who charge three times medical aid rates (because their bills pale in comparison with hospital bills).

Those doctors who choose to practise proper, peer-reviewed, responsible, academic medicine in our government hospitals do so for the love of their art, for their own professional self-development and for their self-respect. They are very most certainly not doing it for the money.

We live in an environment where callous capitalism is rewarded. The lie we, children of 1970s' Protestants (in my case) grew up with - that those who excel in their field of speciality will be rewarded - is just that, a big fat lie.

All of which is a long way of saying, on all accounts I couldn't be happier Richie was treated at Red Cross. Not for financial reasons, because (A) the medical aid paid the entire bill and (B) if we felt he should have been treated somewhere more expensive we would have found the money somehow.

It is because he saw the best doctors money can't buy. Doctors who practise their art with dedication and passion and with a moral compass. Dr Fieggen, Dr Neufeldt, Prof Figaji, Dr Padayachee - I respect you, and I thank you for choosing the road less travelled. Isn't my child lucky that you made the choices you did?