You know the pattern. A news story comes out that makes conservative ideology look bad. Then, like a swarm of angry bees, rightie bloggers go to work on the story, knock out the most damaging parts and fudge the rest, then post the revised version on their blogs with the conclusion “Democrats [or the poor, or liberals, or anybody else they don’t like] are stupid [or corrupt, or just evil].”
Example, the original story: A 24-year-old man in Cincinnati has an infected wisdom tooth. A dentist tells him the tooth needs to be pulled, but the man has no insurance and cannot afford it. The dentist gives him a prescription for an antibiotic and a painkiller. The young man decides he can’t afford both, and he just gets the painkiller. The infection spreads to his brain, and he dies from a treatable tooth infection. The moral is that if he had had health insurance he almost certainly would not have died.
Granted, deciding to fill the pain killer prescription but not the antibiotic, instead of the other way around, was not smart, but it’s not unusual these days for people to not realize that infections really can kill you. Young men in particular tend to think they are invincible.
As for the tooth, the article doesn’t say what the dentist planned to charge to extract the tooth, but a bit of googling revealed that the cost of extracting one impacted wisdom tooth (the tooth was almost certainly impacted if it was infected) runs between $350 -$650, depending on how badly the tooth is impacted, and that does not include the cost of anesthesia, x-rays, or post-operative care, which is sometimes needed.
The cost of antibiotics range widely from almost free to “holy bleep,” and the type of antibiotic prescribed depends on the type and severity of the infection. The cheap ones don’t always work on whatever infection you might have. So without more information we don’t know what the guy might have had to spend on the antibiotic, but it could have been anywhere from $20 (possibly less) to more than $100.
And probably any dentist will tell you that even if that infection had been brought under control the guy would still need the surgery to keep it from returning.
Example, wingnut version: According to Donald Douglas (to whom I do not link, after past experience with DD’s relentless and aggressive hostility to whomever disagrees with him), the infected wisdom tooth could have been pulled for a mere $80. He knows this because the original story also mentioned a 12-year-old Maryland boy who died for want of a tooth extraction that would have cost $80. But that would not have been a wisdom tooth, which cost a lot more to extract. Scared Monkeys repeats the misinformation about the tooth extraction cost.
Then, they all decide the guy could have gotten a $4 antibiotic from Wal-Mart. Again, maybe, maybe not. It depends on what antibiotic was prescribed, and we don’t know that. The doctor might have thought the common and cheap ones like amoxicillin wouldn’t have done the job. This is possible, since the antibiotic was prescribed by an emergency room doctor who saw the young man after his face had swollen and he was getting headaches.
[Update: Add James Joyner to the list of bloggers who assume the young man could have gotten a $4 supply of pills at Wal-Mart.]
Having decided that the young man died because he was too cheap to fork over $84, or ask his family for the money, the bloggers go on to attack his character for wanting government handouts. Well, enough of that.
Back to the example of the boy who might have been saved by a $80 tooth extraction — the original story said,
The Maryland boy underwent two operations and six weeks of hospital care, totaling $250,000. Doctors said a routine $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life. His family was uninsured and had recently lost its Medicaid benefits, keeping Deamonte from having dental surgery.
The family may well have faced a choice of either paying for the tooth extraction or for groceries, and they chose groceries. But the larger point is that the $250,000 no doubt was paid by taxpayers, or else the hospital padded other patients’ bills to cover the loss. It would have been more cost effective for all of us to have paid for the $80 extraction. If righties actually care about the cost of health care and federal budget deficits and such, they might want to ponder that.