It is no secret that healthcare in America is expensive. Healthcare in the United States can cost up to ten times more than healthcare in most other developed nations. A regular check up with the doctor or a CT scan will cost an American over five times more than their Canadian counterpart. Depending on the insurance plan one has, the cost of these basic procedures may come in part, or entirely, out of the patient’s own pocket.
Unlike in Canada and other developed nations where healthcare is universal, controlled and regulated by the government and paid for through taxes, the American healthcare system is a for profit system brokered by insurance companies. When 20 cents on every dollar spent on health in America is spent not on care, but marketing, advertising and profit, medical procedures become expensive.
While the American healthcare system is one of the best, most comprehensive and innovative systems in the world, for the over 41 million Americans still without health insurance, (despite President Obama’s best efforts), medical procedures are often paid for out of pocket and contribute to crippling financial debt. Even for insured Americans with a high-deductible insurance plan, there is also some cost that comes out of the patients’ pockets.
Keeping in mind that every year two out of every thousand Americans accumulates roughly $100,000 in medical bills, these are the costliest procedures that help contribute to that debt.
10. Tracheostomy: $205,000
Essentially creating an entirely new airway for a patient to breath, a tracheostomy is like a continuation of a tracheotomy but more long term. A hole is cut into the trachea to open a passage for the patient to breath when respiration has become difficult or impossible, and a new, permanent tube is inserted into the passage. Most patients who receive this procedure are considerably ill and a large portion of the cost incurred from a tracheostomy is attributed to long-term hospital stays and monitoring of the condition.
9. Kidney Transplant: $262,900
One in ten adult Americans has some form of kidney disease, and the numbers are increasing. As such, the health care system is seeing a rise in kidney transplants, a medical procedure that is both high risk and complicated. Between finding a kidney donor (not included in the cost stated above) and the cost of the actual transplant and ensuing hospital stay to both recover and ensure the body does not reject its new organ, a kidney transplant is a heavy burden both medically and financially. The process and cost for the patient doesn’t end there however; once discharged from the hospital thousands more dollars will be spent on drugs to help the body coalesce with its new kidney permanently as rejection is a legitimate threat for some time as chronic rejection may take years.
8. Pancreas Transplant: $289,400
The Pancreas is a vital digestive organ that helps break down food and produces essential hormones in the body, including insulin among others, which circulate in the blood. A pancreatic transplant is a very difficult procedure due to the size and location of the pancreas behind the stomach. Further complicating the matter is that a pancreatic transplant is generally only performed on patients with pancreatic cancer, a deadly form of cancer that weakens the patients to such an extent that surgery is often laborious and hospital recovery times can last over three weeks.
7. Open Heart Surgery: $324,000
Considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, open heart surgery is a common, albeit often times urgent, medical procedure that fills operating rooms across the country. Any surgery where the rib cage is broken and the chest is opened to facilitate a procedure done on the heart muscle, valves or arteries, such as bypass surgery and valve replacement or repair procedures, is considered open heart surgery. With nearly a million Americans receiving some form of open heart surgery per year the procedure is not only costly to the patient, but profitable for the medical system. Recovery time in the hospital is generally long and there are many complications from the surgery that require a plethora of follow up visits with doctors. Furthermore many medications must be taken, some long term, following open heart surgery, which doesn’t hurt the pharmaceutical industry either.
6. Liver Transplant: $577,100
An extremely high-risk surgery, with the extensive screening done by insurance companies contributing to the procedure’s high cost, if you are one of those eligible for a liver transplant it is a very difficult and costly ordeal. An extremely vital organ that aids in the digestion, blood clotting and a host of other essential functions, the liver is integral to the entire body. Thus, the risks associated with a liver transplant are very high, even more life threatening than many other serious medical procedures. Once becoming eligible for the transplant and the difficult process of finding a donor is achieved, costs build in the form of extensive recovery time and post-op as well as medications and recurring appointments with a specialist.
5. Bone Marrow Transplant: up to $676,800
A bone marrow transplant is a varied type of medical procedure that can be performed in two different ways. An autologous bone marrow transplant is when stem cells are removed from the body and frozen. After treatment for the condition afflicting the patient (generally cancer) is finished, the cells are put back into the body to regenerate healthy blood cells. This procedure costs around $300,000. The second, more expensive bone marrow transplant, involves finding a donor. This type of transplant, called an allogenic transplant, can cost up to $676,800 due to the time and effort put into finding and researching a donor who is a match, as well as the medical procedure itself.
4. Lung Transplant: $797,200 double, $561,200 single
A lung transplant is the last resort for patients with severe lung disease, who have exhausted all other treatments without improvement in their condition, and who will die without the procedure. Unsurprisingly, smoking related illnesses result in most conditions that ultimately require a lung transplant. There are a myriad of factors that make the procedure so expensive; first, finding a donor, then the surgery itself, where the patient is placed on a machine to breathe. Afterwards patients recover in the intensive care unit for a few days, before spending another three weeks in hospital. All told, the procedure, hospital recovery time and subsequent rehab that may take over three months, plus the immunosuppressant medications needed to avoid transplant rejection contribute to the procedure’s high cost.
3. Heart Transplant: $997,000
One of the riskiest medical procedures in the world, filled with potentially fatal complications, a heart transplant is more than double the cost of open heart surgery and rightfully so; doctors aren’t ‘simply’ repairing the heart, but removing and replacing it altogether. The most common method of performing a heart transplant is to remove the patient’s dying heart after having harvested a still living heart from a recently deceased donor and graft it into the patient’s body. A heart transplant is by no means a cure for those patients in the end stages of heart disease, but merely a method of prolonging the length and quality of one’s life. In reality, the life expectancy for the recipient of a heart transplant is 15 years after the procedure, and some of the time post-op is extremely difficult. Recovery in intensive care is followed by a lengthy rehabilitation period with plenty of hospital visits with specialists to ensure the health of the patient. Beyond rehabilitation, recipients of a heart transplant also run the high risk of infection and organ rejection, hence the immunosuppressant drugs prescribed to limit the risk. A very risky and lengthy procedure, it is no wonder it carries a cost just shy of a million dollars.
2. Heart-Lung Transplant: $1,148,400
Combining two of the riskiest medical procedures known to medicine seems almost absurd, and as such, a combined heart and lung transplant is extremely rare in the United States, with roughly 100 performed annually. The difficulty in finding a donor is a primary reason, beyond the difficulty in the operation itself. Those who qualify for the procedure generally have no more than 24 moths to live, with 12 being the median range of life expectancy. Candidates must also be under the age of 55 and be healthy enough otherwise to survive the rehabilitation period and regimen of immunosuppressant drugs to prevent infection and rejection. During surgery both the dying heart and lungs are removed and the patient is connected to a machine that will facilitate breathing and the circulation of blood to the body. While still incredibly rare and risky, and exorbitantly expensive at a cost of over a million dollars, survival rates for heart-lung transplant patients has increased to nearly 85% a year after surgery.
1. Intestine Transplant: $1,206,000
The fact that a combined heart-lung transplant is even possible is testament to the vast progress and innovation of the medical community. The fact that an intestinal transplant is possible is astounding. Involving both the largest and the longest organ within the body, an intestinal transplant is again another last resort procedure that is only performed on patients with life threatening conditions, leaving no other option. A complex procedure that requires a highly skilled transplant team, the entire surgery can last anywhere from four to twelve hours. In some cases patients will receive both liver and intestine transplants concurrently, making this medical procedure the most shocking, complex, time consuming and expensive medical procedure in the United States.
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