Some health care experts believe the nation’s health spending can’t be controlled unless consumers make more of a fuss about how much things cost. If so, the health system needs more people like James Dichter, a 59-year-old local consultant who started asking questions after his insurance company was charged $83 for a sling. Dichter’s co-pay was only $25, but he still thought the price seemed stiff — especially when he learned that a comparable sling cost a mere $7 online. Worse still, everyone he complained to in the medical industry shrugged it off as a fact of life.
As a result, he launched a barrage of complaints from government agencies down to his health insurance company and the Waltham medical equipment supplier that provided this $83 sling. Dichter got his charge forgiven, but, more important, he brought new scrutiny to the way in which unjustifiable costs are simply passed along through the health care system. When everyone involved — from patients to providers to insurers to employers — assumes that ultimately someone else is paying, the cost of even simple products and services is bound to go up.
In an earlier era, US taxpayers were aghast to learn defense contractors were billing the Pentagon $300 for a hammer and $600 for toilet seats. Today, purchasers of health services should be alert to $83 slings. Dichter’s zeal provides a model for a new era of educated consumer.