If John Q. Public developed thyroid and heart problems akin to George Bush's, he could easily rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills - even without the red-carpet treatment the president got.
How many thousands? The bill could well top $10,000.Although full details about Bush's recent care were not released, medical experts say the president probably got the same types of tests and treatment that would have been prescribed for the typical American.
Plus a few perks, of course - such as helicopter travel between home and hospital, a VIP suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital and a medical team packed with specialists from around the country.
If a typical 66-year-old man had experienced shortness of breath and a fluttering heart, he probably would have headed for a hospital emergency room.
Washington-area hospitals say the emergency room visit could cost $600 to $700 or more, including doctor fees and various tests such as a chest X-ray, blood workup and electrocardiogram. Add $125 or more if the patient arrived by ambulance.
From there, the bills would mount rapidly as the patient was hospitalized and doctors performed additional tests and monitored his condition.
"The costs of all of this are enormous," said Dr. David Pearle, acting chief of cardiology at Georgetown University Hospital. He said the bill for health conditions akin to Bush's might even reach $15,000 to $20,000, with the biggest expense being hospitalization in a coronary care or intermediate care unit. The U.S. taxpayer will pay Bush's medical tab.
The expenses would vary widely around the country and even between health facilities in the same city. But health-care experts say that for most Americans, insurance would cover the bulk of the costs.
"This is exactly the sort of episode for which the insurance policies that most people have protect them really very well," said Henry Aaron, an analyst at the Brookings Institution. He estimated the average American would have paid less than $1,000 out of pocket.
That may make Americans more complacent about a system that leaves 35 million people uninsured and millions more underinsured, Aaron said.
Ironically, the drugs that Bush or any other American took to regulate their heartbeat could be the cheapest part of the whole ordeal.
Where the treatment money goes
Here are some of the medical expenses a typical American man might incur if he developed the same heart and thyroid conditions as George Bush. All figures are approximations based on estimates from doctors, hospitals, laboratories and pharmacies in the Northeast. Figures vary widely across the country and even within communities. Different doctors would prescribe different tests and treatment for the same condition.
- Ambulance to hospital: $125 or more.
- Emergency room: $600-$700, including doctors' fees, chest X-ray,
electro cardiogram, blood workup and other tests.
- Hospitalization: $550-$1,000 per night for monitored care, up to
$1,600 for a coronary care unit. For three or four days.
- Cardiologist: Initial visit $200-$300; subsequent daily visits for
about a week, $50-$100 each.
- Drugs: digoxin, $2.50; procainamide, $6.75; coumadin, $41.95;
propylthiuracil, $4.50; propranolol, $49.55.
- Blood tests: basic health survey, $61; thyroid profile, $85; and
other variations. Each could be repeated several times.
- Halter heart monitor: $300-$400 for 24-hour record of heart
activity. Could be done twice, once in hospital and once at home.
- Echocardiogram: $400.
- Electrocardiograms: $50, once a week for a month.
- Treadmill test: $700-1,500, depending on type.
- Radioactive iodine uptake and scan: $375-$550 to analyze thyroid
activity. To be done twice.
- Endocrinologist: Initial visit $150; subsequent weekly visits $75
or more for a month.
- Radioactive iodine therapy: $650-$1,000.