Outrageous hospital charges, Jason Davis, and the inequality of Minneapolis homicides (5×8 – 12/3/13)

This is the last 5×8 for a few weeks. I’m beating the end-of-season, beat-the-out-of-pocket increase, health care rush and having some work done on the Meniere’s Disease affliction. See you later in the month.


It’s “open enrollment” season at businesses that provide health insurance, and, of course, it’s “buy now” season on MNsure and Obamacare websites for those who don’t, so there’s the expected complaining about the rising cost of health insurance and weaker coverage by way of higher copays and out-of-pocket caps.

Remember when hospital bills were front and center when it came to health care complaints? Hospital charges account for a third of the U.S. health care bill and are the largest driver of health care inflation, the New York Times reports today.

A day spent as an inpatient at an American hospital costs on average more than $4,000, five times the charge in many other developed countries, according to the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurance industries. The most expensive hospitals charge more than $12,500 a day. And at many of them, including California Pacific Medical Center, emergency rooms are profit centers. That is why one of the simplest and oldest medical procedures — closing a wound with a needle and thread — typically leads to bills of at least $1,500 and often much more.

At Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, Daniel Diaz, 29, a public relations executive, was billed $3,355.96 for five stitches on his finger after cutting himself while peeling an avocado. At a hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., Arch Roberts Jr., 56, a former government employee, was charged more than $2,000 for three stitches after being bitten by a dog. At Mercy Hospital in Port Huron, Mich., Chelsea Manning, 22, a student, received bills for close to $3,000 for six stitches after she tripped running up a path. Insurers and patients negotiated lower prices, but those charges were a starting point.

Hospitals are the biggest players in the health care game, the report says, and are subject to almost no regulations and there is no cost basis for what they charge.

Related: Mayo announces $72M hospital expansion project (Minnesota Public Radio News).


It’s a shame — for the rest of us — that KSTP’s Jason Davis is retiring. He does fine work uncovering stories about everyday people, reminding us that there’s a lot more of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities, than the steady drumbeat of crooks, liars, and perverts in the news would suggest.

“I’m not moving on to do other things,” he said via the station’s website. “I’ve run my course, and I’ve achieved what I needed to achieve. There are only so many stories out there; I find it more difficult each week to find stories that are interesting and new to me.”

He leaves the station at the end of May.


The good news is that journalist David Brauer is back writing again (this time for the SW Journal). The bad news is they’re killing people in his neighborhood in Minneapolis. Or maybe it’s good news that it’s only one, and the last one was more than five years ago, and Minneapolis’ southwestern-most neighborhoods have had zero homicides in the last 10 years. Which is bad news for predominantly minority neighborhoods which live with killings as a way of life.

Yes, there’s a knock-me-over-with-a-feather aspect here: all are relatively wealthy Minneapolis neighborhoods. They’re also the whitest: every one of the past decade’s five south-of-36th victims was black or Hispanic. While homicides remain remarkable crimes, this longitudinal look only underlines thuddingly obviousness about race, class and ethnicity.

A few hours after the cop stopped by, a makeshift memorial sprung up on a garage near the crime scene. Helium hearts and stars – balloons you put in a birthday bouquet — bobbed underneath a poster with “we love you” messages signed in vibrant magic marker. It was oddly touching, but disquieting, as if the authors knew all too well what to do when a 24-year-old is gunned down.

By the next day, the poster was gone. In its place were plain, black magic-marker scrawls repeating these words: “Bang, Bang.” This too, I thought, must be familiar to people on the other side of the murder moat.


What do you do when you see bullying?


After the New York Times exposed the Minnesota Wild and the National Hockey League in its investigation of the brain damage of former enforcer Derek Boogaard, the league circled the wagons, said almost nothing, and hoped the issue would go away. It did. Wild fans still stand and whoop whenever a hockey goon drops the gloves and pummels someone else. Referees still stand back and let fights occur, while the league continues to crank out press releases about a crackdown on fighting.

Then last week A 10 former NHL players filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the NHL didn’t inform players about the perils of repetitive brain injuries.

That, the Los Angeles Times reports today, created a “stinging backlash” from hockey apologists.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Rick Vaive, the best-known in the group, asked to remove his name from the suit. His lawyer, Trevor Whiffen, said in a statement Vaive “misunderstood the nature of the proceeding” and has no interest in suing the NHL.

Bombastic Canadian TV commentator and former Bruins Coach Don Cherry said he felt sorry for some players “that maybe got whacked a little” but declared the suit “a money grab.” Retired star forward Jeremy Roenick was scornful. “They can go after the league that they craved to be in since they were little kids and paid their salary,” Roenick told the Associated Press, adding he knew the risks involved but played “because I loved the game.”

Reportedly, 200 former NHL players have joined the suit but their names have not been made public. There has been no support voiced by prominent players whose careers were ended by concussions, such as Pat LaFontaine, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya or Eric Lindros.

BONUS I: America isn’t ready for this yet, the media giant Clear Channel believes.

Clear Channel has banned the image from its billboards in New York’s Times Square. The photo is part of an advertising campaign for SnoreStop, a line of over-the-counter snoring remedies. Its slogan is “If we can keep this couple together, we can keep anyone together.”

Clear Channel says the ad is “uncomfortable.”

BONUS II: Donations at the kettles are down? Bring in the dogs. It’s like printing cash.

BONUS III: Do the moneyed elite lack the patience for classical music? (State of the Arts)

BONUS IV: Shannon Gibney, MCTC prof, also took heat for structural racism comments in 2009 (City Pages).


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The social cost of long term unemployment.

Second hour: Comet ISON and the latest in space news.

Third hour: Holiday movies.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – A new Intelligence Squared debate: Does Domestic Spying Keep Us Safe?

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Stadium officials, the Vikings and other dignitaries will have the official groundbreaking for the new Vikings stadium. They have 940 days to finish it off. MPR’s Tim Nelson will have the story.

It’s been almost three years since the revolution in Egypt. And instead of bringing stability there is now a battle over competing versions of recent events. Activists say the military led government is cleansing the past and there is no public pressure to hold them to account. NPR looks at shaping history in Egypt.

  • John O.

    Best wishes to you Bob. Hope everything goes well with your procedure. My spouse is also having surgery tomorrow since she has blown through all of the out-of-pocket expenses for the year already. We were fortunate in that she was able to get scheduled; her preexisting condition also expedited things as well. Aging sucks. 😛

  • dpsours

    Good luck with the procedure, Bob!

  • Cara

    Best of luck; we’ll all miss you for the next few weeks.

  • MrE85

    Anyone in the NewsCut crowd feel “uncomfortable” about the image from the SnoreStop ad? Or is it more of a NYC thing?

    • “Uncomfortable” for not the “conventional” reason. It makes me uncomfortable because the ad assumes that a member of the US military and a “perceived” Muslim woman are naturally thought of as being “enemies.”

      • MrE85

        Good point.

    • Chuck

      Not uncomfortable at all in terms of the image. I do understand why a business might be averse to such an ad if it is perceived as affecting the bottom line, but it still seems overly cautious. Interestingly, according to the link, the ad was inspired by real people: “SnoreStop execs say the billboard was inspired by an actual couple — soldier Jamie Sutton and his Muslim wife, Aleah. Even the models are an actual couple — soldier Paul Evans and his wife — who agreed to be in the ad because they are ‘no stranger[s] to other people’s discrimination.’”

      • MrE85

        The hijab makes it easy to spot Muslim women (most times, not all wear the veil), but how do we know from this photo that the soldier isn’t Muslim, too?
        I’m not certain, but Evans might have some trouble with the Army on this ad, too. When I was in service, there were strict rules about wearing the uniform at political events. The former commander of Ft. Ben Harrison in Indianapolis lost his post over this. I wonder if there are similar rules about advertising. If not, there should be…

        • According to one story out of San Diego, some people thought the billboard was a “slap in the face to our military.”

          • MrE85

            Some would. Some think we at war with a faith, not with terrorists. Which, oddly enough, is exactly how the terrorists like to paint the picture.

        • Chuck

          I did not know there were rules about uniforms and politics, although it makes perfect sense. Do you see the ad as a political statement? I hope the soldier would have received some sort of permission to pose for the ad, but I suppose it’s not a given. I would be very interested to know whether the soldier, Evans, is still in service and how his fellow troopers see this relationship. My guess is that, as with most discrimination, it disappears when people get to know each other as regular old humans. Your point about not knowing the soldier’s religious stance is astute.

          • MrE85

            I see it as pure advertising, with a bit of the Bennington ad vibe. Remember their “United Colors of Bennington” ads, using models of all races and hues together? In their day, some thought they were controversial, too.

          • Chuck

            I remember the controversy, but Benneton at least had the gumption to use the ads rather than cave to fear of what public reaction would be. Along with your comment about not being at war with a faith, it is also useful to remember that Islam is not monolithic any more than is Christianity or any other religion. Local cultures overlay their own gloss on religions, and there will be as many varieties of Islam as there are people who practice it. Only a teeny population could be considered “terrorists.”

          • MrE85

            Spot on, Chuck. Just as Tim McVeigh did not represent the views of most white males, Catholics, veterans, or Americans in general. It’s an important point to remember.

  • BReynolds33

    Good luck with the procedure, Bob. I know you have spoken about the potential benefits, and I hope it works out for you.

    For the post-

    #4. The bullying video is powerful, but I wonder what they left on the cutting room floor to make their point (if they did leave anything out). They also seemed to target an inordinate number of people with Asian appearance. I have no idea if those particular people are simply of Asian decent, or if they are immigrants here on student visas. If they are here on student visas, they are often times taught to avoid anything that even looks like trouble, for fear they may lose their visa status (true or not, it is a real fear). There are also a number of cultures in Asia that do not teach individuals to assert themselves in those situations.

    While some people, including myself, are willing to jump in, in today’s world, you just never know what that guy could be carrying with him, either. Who knows if the guy has a knife, a gun, a hand grenade… I would guess the majority of people are simply avoiding the situation, not because they don’t feel for the victim, but because they don’t want to become the next victim.

    The message is loud and clear, but it leaves me with some questions.

    #5. This one is a difficult one for me. Having covered the Wild for the past five years, and working closely with Derek at a non-profit, this one hits home. However, while the league is clearly mismanaged and run by buffoons, it is a business decision on their part. The sponsors aren’t going away, the TV deals keep getting bigger, and they continue with a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.

    The thing to remember, though is that the league cannot remove fighting from the game alone. The players must agree to rule changes, and at last count over 97% still believed it was part of the game and should be left alone. The culture of fighting starts very young, especially in Canada, and there is not much fans in the US can do about it.

    The culture among fans has begun to change. The debate rages on Twitter fairly frequently. A debate that five years ago wasn’t happening. You would have been laughed at had you mentioned fighting was an issue. Now, there are influential writers and fans that are trying to change the culture.

    Even at Wild games, the excitement of fights seems to be dwindling. Fans here do not seem to enjoy the fighting as much as fans other places. Sure, there are drunken idiots who still scream that they want to see someone die, but the majority of fans stand quietly, watch the fight, and cheer the combatants when it is done. I cannot speak for all of them, but it appears to me to be the same cheer they give any time a player is seen to have sacrificed for the team.

    Like I said, this one is hard for me. I think the culture among the fans is changing, but until the players want it gone, it isn’t going anywhere.

  • Tom K

    Good luck Bob.

  • Beth-Ann Bloom

    Hope the procedure gets you off the infernal.internal merry go round!

  • jaime

    Wishing you a speedy recovery from your procedure!

    Bonus IV: it seems like MCTC should perhaps provide some ongoing training to this teacher. She is bringing up a necessary conversation, but doesn’t seem to be doing a good job at facilitating dialog. Perhaps if she provided some context about the structural racism, it would help people start to understand the concept in a broader way rather than feeling personally attacked. This is a tough subject…

  • Dave

    I look at that ad and I see a man/woman couple. It does not rile any emotion in me (except to say that her eyes are hot). What is it like to float thru life offended by every damn thing?

    I suppose we can pretend that there are no military/Muslim couples out there. Just like we can pretend that there are no gay couples or black/white couples. Whatever, Clear Channel. Once again you flex your rigidly conservative corporate tendencies.

  • jwest8

    Good luck to you Bob. May your bills be understandable. I know it is impossible to price shop.
    Two years ago I had the misfortune to spend about two hours being treated in an emergency room for the same thing a week apart (Note to self and others: don’t fall on black ice.) Charges were the same each time-about $9,000!

    Last year and this year I also had the misfortune to have the same surgery nearly a year apart (first one was a failed procedure) almost exactly to the day in two different facilities, two different surgeons. Surgeon charges identical. Facility charges hugely different. The touted “low cost” day surgery facility charged nearly $18,000 for “facility charges”. The presumably high cost huge medical center which treated me with more staff and more experienced staff charged $10,000. And, yes, these are apples to apples charges after the fact. The negotiated rates paid by insurance were similarly higher for the “cheap” facility.

  • Joe D

    Good luck Mr. Collins with your surgery, hope everything goes well for you. We will be thinking of you.

  • Momkat of Apple Valley

    We’ll miss you, Bob, and look forward to reading you in January.

  • joetron2030

    Good luck, Bob. The 5x8s will be missed, of course. Look forward to your return.

  • David

    I might as well pile on to say good luck! I will certainly miss the 5x8s and other posts that make me say “hmmmm” to know one in particular.

  • Cosmos

    I will miss New Cut, hope all goes well with the procedure.

  • tboom

    #1 Paying … >>Hospitals are the biggest players in the health care game, the report says, and are subject to almost no regulations and there is no cost basis for what they charge.<<

    One lecture from business school has stayed with after all these years (to paraphrase): “Don’t make the mistake of setting price based on cost, charge whatever the market will bear and not a cent less.”

    People don’t shop for medical care, they just go get it when they need it! That’s why government regulation has a roll to play.