I thought someone had taken a baseball bat to the back of my leg.
I was playing racquetball the other day. As I attempted to chase a ball into the corner, my 43-year-old body had another idea. It thought it would be more fun to explode my Achilles' tendon, the stringy rope that used to connect my heel to my calf, into two separate pieces.
It's never a good idea to explode your Achilles' tendon. It's a particularly poor idea if you are self-employed and buy your own high-deductible health-insurance coverage.
I pay the first $500 of any treatment I receive, then 20 percent of all treatment up to $5,000. If the total amount of my treatment costs more than $5,000, I'll be out of pocket $1,500.
Asking the price
This usually makes me something that most health-care consumers are not: a shopper.
I ask how much things cost. I asked the surgeon how much it would cost to reattach the stringy rope to my heel and his answer was telling: "I don't know."
In his defense, I don't want my doctor to worry about what things cost. I want him to worry about the best treatment he can provide, regardless of cost.
But shouldn't I worry about cost?
Isn't health care, in many ways, a service just like any other service? If you go to the dry cleaner or a lawyer or a dentist, don't you want to know what the bill is going to be before the service is provided? And doesn't each usually provide a fairly precise estimate?
Sure, if you're having a heart attack, you're not in a very good position to be soliciting bids from cardiologists, but there are a lot of health care goods and services you could shop around for.
The cost of a prescription drug varies widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. And I'll bet the crutches the doctor sold me were significantly more expensive than the crutches I could have bought on my own.
Out of control
It's no wonder America's health-care inflation has long been out of control. Health costs have risen 140 percent in the last decade. America spends nearly $2 trillion on health care every year, nearly twice as much per capita as other industrialized countries.
Part of the reason is that too few people are shopping. That's why President Bush was dead on the money when he discussed health savings accounts in his State of the Union address.
Here's how they work: If your employer pays $5,000 a year for your low-deductible policy, why not have him pay $2,500, more or less, for a $2,500 deductible policy. He'll give you the $2,500 he saves, which you can invest and save for your own health care needs.
Since you'll now be paying the first $2,500 of any treatment you receive with your own money, guess what you're going to do. You're going to shop around.
And as you exercise your individual choice as you take closer command over your family's health-care decisions you're going to provide a valuable service to the rest of America: You're going to help keep health-care inflation in check.
To be sure, cost is the "Achilles' heel" in our health-care system, and a total lack of accountability is what is driving that cost. Which makes me feel guilty for what I'm about to admit.
Since I know that the total cost of all my treatment will exceed $5,000 since I know I'm going to have to shell out my $1,500 share to get fixed no matter what happens there's no longer any incentive for me to shop around.
I'm going to go to the most expensive hospital that has the most attractive nurses. I'm going to demand caviar for lunch and prime rib for dinner.
I'm going to spend money the way politicians do: I'm going to spend somebody else's money and savor every minute.
I can't wait to get back on the racquetball court, either. I can't wait to blow out my other Achilles' tendon so I can enjoy spending other people's money all over again.