NPR logo Stories Of Health Care Horrors Produce Happy Endings For A Few


Stories Of Health Care Horrors Produce Happy Endings For A Few

The story of a pregnant immigrant whose ultrasound bills cost her family its food budget and a graduate student who couldn't afford a blood test for his sinus infection are the winners of a novel essay contest that aims to raise awareness of doctors and medical students about the costs of care.

Let me tell you a story about health costs. hide caption

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Let me tell you a story about health costs.

These stories "are powerful just for the sheer volume of unrecognized misery alone,” said Boston surgeon and New Yorker writer Dr. Atul Gawande, one of the judges of the contest sponsored by the group Costs of Care. The other judges included former Massachusetts Gov. and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and Michael Leavitt, former Utah Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.

The contest received more than 100 entries from around the country, and chose winners in each of two categories, from patients and clinicians. Both winning stories, interestingly, were about people who had health insurance, but still struggled to pay their medical bills.

The clinician winner of the $1,000 prize was Tarcia Edmunds-Jehu, a Boston nurse-midwife, whose essay described her patient’s struggle to pay off $1,400 in ultrasound bills not covered by her health plan.

The patient winner was Brad Wright, a graduate student from Durham, N.C. His essay describes in vivid detail his ultimately unsuccessful effort to get his sinus infection treated while remaining within his health plan’s network.

Other finalists, wrote Neel Shah, a physician and Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate who founded the organization and the contest, included stories about an $11,000 bill for indigestion, a $10,000 bill for pre-approved surgery, and a $1,000 bill for birth control.

Starting in January, the group will publish a new story on its blog each week about the lack of price transparency in the health care system.