The one thousand, four hundred and eighty-seven dollar gold-plated Medicare tetanus shot.

by James K. Sayre

The one thousand, four hundred and eighty-seven dollar gold-plated Medicare tetanus shot. Are there some Congressional moths that have been eating holes in our Medicare safety net? Has our Federal government privatized Medicare coverage in the 21st century to the point that it basically doesn't cover charges for visits by Senior Citizens to the hospital Emergency Room?

Silly me. I thought that celebrating my 65th birthday and becoming a Senior Citizen and receiving Medicare Hospitalization coverage (Part A) meant that there would actually be some health cost coverage if I had to go to a hospital Emergency Room for treatment.

In early August 2007, on a Friday evening, as I was moving a bird feeder, I received a small puncture would on my right thumb from an exposed bare wire. I had not had a tetanus shot for twenty-five years, so I called my family doctor, but of course, he had closed his office and left for the weekend at 5 PM. I called his exchange, explained my predicament and they promised that the doctor on evening telephone duty would call me back. She or he never did. Finally, in desperation, I called the Emergency Room of the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California and spoke with the nurse on duty. She said that time was of the essence and that I should get a tetanus shot within 72 hours.

Saturday morning, I tried calling the various Public Health offices in the City of Oakland and Alameda County to see if I could get a tetanus shot; none of them even answered the telephone, they were all closed for the weekend. Twenty-five years ago, when I was on a camping trip in Washington State, I stepped on a rusty nail in a wooden plank. The next morning I went to the Public Health office in the City of Olympia, explained what had happened and received a tetanus shot. No fuss, no muss and no charge.

I had no assurance that my regular family doctor would able to see me on Monday, so, on Sunday morning, I did what I thought was prudent under the circumstances, I drove over to the hospital Emergency Room at the John Muir Medical Center. After awhile, I was examined and then given a tetanus shot. I presented my Medicare hospitalization card, which they copied.I asked one of the nurses there if I would be receiving a bill for the tetanus shot, and she so no, and that Medicare would take care of it.

Imagine my surprise, when about ten days later, I received a bill for $1,293.00 from the John Muir Medical Center for services rendered that day. They also said that I would be receiving a separate bill from the attending emergency room physician. Sure enough, about a week later, I received a bill for an additional $194.00 from the physician. These two bills total up to $1,487.00 for one tetanus shot for a Senior Citizen under Medicare. You could easily drive a Hummer or two through this hole in our moth-eaten Medicare safety net.




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Web page last updated on 2 September 2007.