Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Curious Case of Two Axe Murderers

I ran across two stories about axe murders. One involved an Arab man who killed a Jewish teen and wounded another younger child. That case made international news and may change Israeli policy towards Palestinians. The other was in America and it got little play. Here it is.

Seth Tatum, a 26 year old with bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms, had been off his medication for a month. Tuesday night, he asked his mother to take him to the hospital for treatment. Seton Shoal Creek Hospital presented an estimated bill for three days of treatment needed to get the man's medication stabilized. The mother and son walked. The Austin-American Statesman reported:

"They wanted $3,600 for the first three days, and I don't have that kind of money, so we left," she said. "He is 26 and doesn't have insurance anymore."

In a statement, the Seton Family of Hospitals said, "It is our policy to let all of our patients know the cost of daily charges and doctor fees. "If they do not have insurance or the means to cover those costs, we ask if they can assist in the payment of those charges."

Wednesday, Tatum beat his mother's friend with a garden tool, fracturing his skull and cutting the man's hands and head. Seth walked three miles to the home of Lou Perryman. The mentally ill man beat the Austin actor to death with an axe.

This calls to question the aim of the healthcare system. Given Seton's statement, it too should be on trial:

The statement said Seton has provided about a half-million dollars in charity and free care for patients in the past year.
San Angelo hospitals provide more than that from their emergency rooms. Seton is a family of hospitals, serving a much bigger town. It's sad when payment is prioritized over treatment. This case turned out very badly for Austin. One timely medical intervention could've prevented the tragic affair. By saving Seton less than $3,600, society incurred an emergency room visit, a death, an investigation, an autopsy, and the cost of possible life imprisonment for the perpetrator.

Our elected officials need to ensure health care is optimized for citizens, especially those in crisis and capable of harming others. America's health care providers need to deliver.

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