clock menu more-arrow no yes

A Band-Aid, a $629 ER bill, and a hard truth about American health care

Back in January of 2015, Malcolm Bird took his 1-year-old daughter, Colette, to his local emergency room. His wife had accidentally cut the tip of the young girl's pinky finger while clipping her fingernails.

“There was an enormously large amount of blood,” Bird says, “The blood was all over Sarah and all over Colette and it was like, ‘Oh, my god what have you done here?’”

They were first-time parents, and the situation seemed serious.

Fortunately, Colette was fine. The doctor cleaned up her pinky with a wet paper towel, put a Band-Aid on it, and sent the family home.

All’s well that ends well.

Except the story doesn’t end there. A few weeks later, Bird got a bill in the mail. He discovered that the hospital was charging $629 for a five-minute visit and a Band-Aid.

How does a Band-Aid wind up costing so much money? Why are American health care prices so incredibly high?

Vox’s new podcast, The Impact, explores how policy affects real lives. This season, we’re focusing on health care, and we wanted to begin with one of thorniest questions in the American health care system: prices.

In this episode, we look at how the American decision not to regulate health care prices leads to $629 Band-Aids and $3,170 fees just for visiting the emergency room.

We talk to doctors who think these prices are totally justified and a health economist who doesn’t buy it. And we take a trip to the drug store to find out how much a Band-Aid should really cost.

Like what you’re hearing? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get podcasts. And you can always email us your feedback to impact@vox.com.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.