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About The Bay: A Personal Look At The Cost Of Health Care

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – What's your life worth? It can be a difficult question until you spend time in the hospital, and then are faced with your bill.

About six months ago, KCBS and KPIX 5 reporter Mike Sugerman left work and was told by hid doctors that he was pretty sick.

"Aortitis. That just means inflammation of the aorta," said Dr. Gary Milechman, who was around 13 year's ago when Sugerman's aorta burst and was patched up. Now it was infected? That normally doesn't happen 13 years later.

About The Bay: A Personal Look At The Cost Of Health Care

"There's only a few case reports in literature about it," Dr. Milechman said. "Even the best thoracic aortic surgeons have only seen a couple of cases in their lifetime and some have not seen it at all."

There's still debate over exactly where the infection is, but a steady diet of strong antibiotics helped Sugerman to get back on his feet. Six months later, including a month in the hospital, and a big bill.

"The bill was actually $255,000," said Mike Cohill, Sutter Health West Bay President, who was used to these questions. $40 for a Vicodin pain pill, when they're 50 cents at the drug store? $2 for a single aspirin? That would be $400 for a bottle of 200.

"It's not just a bottle of 200 aspirin sitting on a shelf," Cohill said. "A physician has to write the order, the pharmacy has to check to make sure that that aspirin does not interfere with the other drugs the patient might be receiving. Then that aspirin has to be dispensed individually."

Because he is insured, Cohill said prices are higher to help pay for patients who aren't. Sugerman said his insurance paid for virtually everything, making him lucky, from start to finish.

You can hear Mike Sugerman's About the Bay reports on Mondays at 6:40am, 7:40am and 8:40am on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.

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