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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Wondering about what health costs? Look to your pets

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If you’ve got a pet, you know the horrible calculation: the devil’s bargain between how much you love the little beastie, versus how much veterinary care now costs.

Hundreds of dollars to get a cat spayed: easily into the thousands as your much-beloved dog ages and its health fails. Emergency weekend visit? Roll out the credit card. A strange anemic condition that’s hard to pin down? Think about getting a loan.

There are insurance plans now to help cover the costs of unexpected pet health concerns in a world where even putting a pet down can costs hundreds of dollars.

But if it’s bad for pets, if you live in the United States, you know that the costs for treating humans are even higher.

In fact, you know just how high they are: if you have insurance in the U.S., you get a regular reckoning even if you don’t have to pay the full shot.

A bill will come, citing how many thousands of dollars your treatment has cost, and then there’s a section that details what portion is left for you to pay. Even if your plan is a good one and you don’t pay very much, you have an idea of what a given procedure costs. (It may not be a completely clear idea — in some instances, American hospital bills can be more of a negotiating tool between hospitals and insurance companies than anything else.)

Every now and then, the numbers can be eye-popping — after a San Diego man named Todd Fassler was bitten by a rattlesnake in 2015, his hospital bill came in at a whopping US$153,161.25.

But here in the land of government-paid medicine, we don’t have that picture.

If you go to the emergency room on a Saturday with your flu symptoms because your family doctor isn’t working, how much extra does it cost the system as a whole? You don’t know. If you’re in a hospital bed for three weeks, what would it have cost you if the provincial and federal governments weren’t picking up the tab? Once again, you have no clear idea.

Surely, if an X-ray of your cat costs $200, an X-ray of your leg must cost at least as much.

And maybe we should have that sort of knowledge in our hands. If you’re airlifted from Labrador to the Health Sciences in St. John’s, all of the bills are somewhere in the system. Every drug you are given while you’re laid up is tracked in your medical records. Surely, it wouldn’t be hard to at least ballpark what sort of benefit you are getting from having socialized medicine.

Heck, if you get in a car accident, your insurer — once everything is said, done and paid for — sends you a wrap-up letter explaining the entire cost of the accident, and often, looking at the numbers involved is an object lesson in making sure your car insurance is fully paid and up to date.

When you grouse about the amount of income taxes you have to pay every year, would your complaints fade away if you saw how much your aunt’s knee replacement surgery actually cost in full, and what it would do to the family finances if everybody had to chip in to pay the bill?

It just might.

Maybe, just maybe, once you were back home and recuperating, it would be enlightening to get a copy of just how much it cost to provide you with medical treatment.

Perhaps we’d be better, more informed stewards of how we use our medical system if we saw the actual cash benefit of what we were receiving.

And perhaps we’d realize how valuable our medical care actually is.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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