The Cost of Four Fillings

health-care-business-ideasBy Chun Su

“The cost of the treatment for your four tooth cavities will only be $156.60, with a deductible of $25.00. Your dental insurance covers the other 80% for you,” the dental office receptionist cheerily said to me while handing me the estimated price for my treatment plan for the four cavities I had. I was stunned (but not really shocked since I was considering getting treatment in the United States) by the numerical number I just heard. Even with a dental insurance as good as mine, which covers 80 percentage of the restorative treatment, I would still have to pay for $156.60 for four simple tooth fillings! I am a struggling lower-middle working person who lives on a grocery budget of $40 per week. I can definitely find $156.60 in my bank account, suck it up, and pay for the fillings, but the cost would be disproportionate with my pathetic income. Perhaps Americans may find the price of my four tooth fillings not only reasonable, but also cheap. However, as someone born and bred in Taiwan where everyone is mandated by the government to join the government-funded, universal healthcare, and who subsequently enjoys affordable healthcare, $156.60 is relatively expensive!

In Taiwan, the same tooth fillings would have been free– covered 100% by the universal healthcare. It is free compared to what they charge in the United States for the same tooth fillings! Even if I were to pay for my fillings 100% out of pocket in Taiwan, the cost would only be a fraction of what I would be paying in the United States!

In Taiwan, the government-funded healthcare would cover most, if not all, of the cost of medical procedures and surgeries. In general, patients would only pay a fraction of the cost and the rest would be paid for by the public healthcare. There are even naturalized Taiwanese-Americans who would fly back to Taiwan specifically for a surgery, cancer treatment, or other expensive medical procedures. Some of them choose to do this because they would not otherwise be able to afford the ridiculous medical costs in the United States or they want to avoid having to pay for a huge medical bill when they can get the same medical procedure done in Taiwan for only a fraction of the cost.

Granted, the Taiwanese universal healthcare is not without its flaws. For one obvious shortcoming, the Taiwanese government has been deep in rabbit hole with debts incurred from funding this public healthcare. Nevertheless, if a country were to be in debt for something (which seems to be world-wide inevitable), why choose wars and violence (e.g., the cost of maintaining the army in the U.S.) over funding universal healthcare?

Universal healthcare should be an unalienable human right—no one should let a medical condition fester or languish in death just because they cannot afford to pay for a life-dependent medical service. In fact, affordable universal healthcare should be a public good. In the United States, albeit a country as advanced and well developed as it seems, health insurance still seems like a privilege for the rich and the extreme poor rather than a fundamental human right for everyone. I am lucky enough to have a dental plan that covers 80% of any restorative treatment, so that my four fillings would only cost $156.60. Imagine people with no health insurance coverage at all and who have to pay 100% of the price. The four fillings would have come with an outrageous price tag of $862.99! How do dentists expect someone who is in middle or lower-middle class to pay for it? While people who work in the medical field have gone through extensive, prolonged medical training to practice what they do and deserve to be compensated for their education and skills likewise, there exists a strong need to strike a balance between a fair payment to the medical professionals for the services they provide and the affordability of paying for these medical services by people like you and I who might not be well-off enough to not blink an eye at the huge medical bill or poor to the point where one is covered by Welfare.


Chun Su was a Contestant in the 2015 Costs of Care Essay Contest.

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