The Burning Question: Who Will Foot the Bill for America’s Increasing Burn-Care Costs?

By CELIA BELT 

Each year in the United States, half a million Americans will be treated for burns so severe as to require hospitalization. The “survivors”—including more than three hundred children each day and a drastically increasing number of U.S. military members since the turn of the millennium—can be expected to undergo arduous, agonizing surgeries and painful rehabilitation lasting for years.

The emotional and physical trauma of these fellow citizens is not a pretty picture, nor is it an inexpensive one. According to estimates, patients with severe burns with no complications can expect a whopping $1.6 million bill for treatment over the cost of their lifetime. For patients who do go on to develop complications as the result of severe burns, hospital bills can run more than $10 million.

Where is that money coming from? Partly, it comes from you and me in the form of increased healthcare premiums. But oftentimes, it comes from directly people like me, the cofounder of the Moonlight Fund, a Texas-based non-profit organization for burn survivors and their families. We’re often tasked with raising funds to help with the costs of expensive procedures in addition to the emotional support and caregiver assistance our organization was founded for. Many times, I’ve reached into my own pocket—not because I’m a saint, but because I’ve been there.  As a childhood burn survivor myself, scalded over 32% of my body, I’m well aware that infections resulting from burns—which occur in one out of three cases—add between $58,000 and $120,000 to treatment costs.  Skin breakdown—which happens one out of two times—adds up to $107,000 more. Disfigurement and scarring? Up to $35,000 on top of that. Then, of course, there are the psychological issues associated with severe trauma. 57% of burn victims need help for these, help that costs as much as $75,000 per patient.

It’s no wonder I spend a good deal of my time trying to find scholarship beds for survivors soon leaving the burn unit or negotiating with compression garment companies to give us a break on high-cost wound garments for our patients. The time we spend writing grant proposals, hosting fundraisers, and digging into our own pockets to help people could far better be spent helping them emotionally recover and fit back in to a society horrified at burned skin.

Burn victims—who are often socially isolated due to their wounds—appreciate you not staring at them on the street.  But that doesn’t mean we want to be invisible.  Today, more than ever, we can’t afford to be.

Celia Belt, a burn survivor, is the founder of the award-winning Moonlight Fund Inc., a non-profit organization that provides financial and emotional assistance to burn survivors and their families.

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