One year ago today, someone clubbed me on the back of my head and took off with my purse. I suffered a “mild traumatic brain injury,” which seems like an oxymoron because the injury and the recovery didn’t feel mild.
Nonetheless, after a $1,123 ambulance ride, a two-night $5,697.85 hospital stay and 50-plus insurance claims for treatment ranging from cognitive therapy to vestibular therapy for dizziness, my marbles appear to have returned to their proper places in my brain.
On this one-year anniversary of the attack, I am especially grateful for MinnPost.com’s health insurance coverage because without it I would be filing for bankruptcy protection. I also am thankful for Minnesota’s Crime Victims Reparations Fund, which picked up a good portion of my out-of-pocket expenses.
At times, however, I feel guilty about how much is being spent to heal me and I suspect it has something to do with reporting about health-care reform and policy while 47 million Americans remain uninsured.
I fret about how high our small staff’s premiums will go, but I know from my reporting that state law caps increases at 25 percent for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and that the impact is supposed to be spread across the insurer’s entire small-group pool. Still, I worry that our deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses will increase.
In fact, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with trying to put a dollar sign on what this crime cost society and me. I’ve run countless Internet queries, trying to track down a multiplier. I’ve called criminologists and sociologists without success.
One dated national study [PDF] estimates that 1.4 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries in a year — 11 percent caused by assaults. According to the study, direct and indirect costs are nearly $60 billion, which breaks down to about $42,860 per person.
Adding up the bills
As of this writing, I’m estimating at least $25,929.60 in direct costs stemming from a felony assault that caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Here’s how I arrived at that amount:
• Hennepin County Medical Center, which has a first-rate traumatic brain injury program, has billed my insurer for $18,132.85 in claims so far, including the hospital stay. HCMC wasn’t reimbursed the full $18,132.85 because of built-in reductions like “provider responsibility amount” and “allowed amount.” But that’s the hospital’s estimated expenses for the excellent care I received.
As someone who has written about cost-shifting in health care, I have wondered how much of my bill goes toward paying for the uninsured served by the state’s public safety-net hospital. The majority of HCMC patients receive health care through federal or state programs; I’m among the nearly 25 percent of HCMC patients covered by private insurance.
• Hennepin Faculty Associates billed about $600 in services related to the hospital stay.
• I submitted a $1,090.76 claim to my property insurer for a pair of prescription glasses and a pricey purse, the latter of which did not get replaced because of a $500 deductible.
• I lost about six weeks of work after the injury, and although MinnPost generously continued to pay me during that time, I plowed through all my available paid-time-off last year, exhausted much of this year’s PTO and worked extra hours to make up any difference. Neither MinnPost nor I carry short-term disability insurance. I’m estimating that MinnPost, a 2-year-old nonprofit, lost at least $4,200 in productivity from me.
• The Crime Victims Reparations unit, which “compensates victims for losses sustained due to violent crime in Minnesota,” covered the bulk of my share of the costs and nudged providers into waiving the rest. Otherwise, I would have had to fork out a $1,000 deductible and up to 20 percent of the overall bill. Much to my surprise, the unit also awarded me $1,900 for lost PTO.
Those are the easily quantifiable costs.
But I can’t help but wonder how much it cost to assess, assemble and mail copies of 50-plus claims, 50-plus explanation-of-benefits summaries from the insurer, and 50-plus more bills seeking co-payments. And who knows how many claims and denials were sent between the providers and the insurer? All I know is I have a 3-inch-thick file of paperwork.
I also have not been able to put a dollar sign on all the time spent by my son, friends, neighbors, and present and former colleagues to deliver meals and groceries, do my laundry, clean my house and drive me to medical appointments and elsewhere when I could not drive, cook or clean because of dizziness and exhaustion. Their visits and support were priceless to me.
So, the total cost of the assault could be closer to the $42,860 figure when their generosity and other indirect expenses are factored into the equation.
In my mind, indirect costs would include the following:
• The extra work my colleagues picked up during my absence and my gradual return to work, including any delays caused by the 20-minute breaks I was required to take every time my head started hurting. About eight months into the recovery, it became difficult for me to discern which was to blame for the headaches: the TBI or the 1,000-page health-reform bills.
• The hours Minneapolis police Sgt. Ron Christianson spent patrolling the area where I was attacked, talking to businesses and residents in the area, and trying to find the assailant(s), including distributing photos of the possible suspects seen on videotape from a nearby business. He also called regularly or sent detailed emails to update me.
“I’m always reminded of the robbery every time I drive by the area, which is quite often,” he wrote me last week. “It’s still an active case, and I’m still looking.”
• The time spent by a couple of good Samaritans after they found my tossed wallet and driver’s license in different locations and proceeded to search for other contents in the area before turning in the wallet to police and mailing my driver’s license to me.
• The jail, court and prison costs in the event anyone is tried and convicted. I’m not holding my breath because the “solve rate,” in general, is low for robberies.
What this crime cost my psyche is a subject for another day. I try to focus on how fortunate I am because 1) I’m alive and have resumed my life and work, and 2) my employer’s health insurance and the reparations fund paid for most of my recovery.
I occasionally wonder about the assailant’s psyche and the troubled path that brought him and his friends to a parking lot one year ago. In the matter of a few minutes, this crime netted about $30 in cash, an outdated cell phone and a nice purse.
Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for MinnPost.com, can be reached at cselix[at]minnpost.com. Follow her on Twitter.
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