How much did your employer give to charity last year?
Contrary to popular belief, American doctors and hospitals give away free care quite often, to the tune of $74.9 billion for 2013. That, in case you don't understand numbers, is a fuck-ton of money. Let's look at the zeros: $74,900,000,000.
Of course, most of it isn't voluntary. There are a lot of uninsured people in America, and, whether you like it or not, you're still paying for them (and always have been, long before the current health policies). Even though they don't have insurance, that doesn't mean they won't get sick or injured and land in the hospital. There they'll likely need labs, tests, medications, supplies, and (of course) doctors and nurses. Since the amount of money charged for medical services are realistically beyond what most can pay, the doctors and hospitals have no choice but to write them off as losses. So you pay for them by higher insurance rates (I've addressed this before).
But the office is a different matter. Most doctors, including me, collect payment up front. Maybe not the full amount, but we copy your insurance card and charge your $50 co-pay (or whatever) before seeing you. The rest we'll bill to your insurance company. For the record, I don't like billing people before their appointment, but it's amazing how many people have "forgotten" their wallet if you try to collect after the visit. Me and my staff have families to support, too.
My point here is that office care generally isn't free, unless previously arranged. To make an appointment you have to have insurance (or agree with our cash prices). Before you even get seen we copy your insurance card and charge you for your share.
Like most doctors, though, I still see the occasional uninsured patient for free. Sometimes as a courtesy to someone else, sometimes because I genuinely feel bad for someone and am trying to help. Most doctors do.
So how much free office care are U.S. doctors voluntarily giving up? Well, for 2013 it was $10.5 billion. $10,500,000,000. I'd still call that a shitload of money (shitload < fuck-ton).
For comparison, let's look at America's biggest retail company: Walmart. According to their own website, last year they gave away roughly $1 billion in cash and merchandise to various charities.
That's a lot, but it's not even 10% of the amount that doctors like me provided. Sam, you're a cheap-wad compared to us (but I love the way your shoppers dress).
Keep that in mind next time you hear some politician or "patient activist" talking about how doctors are all greedy bastards who don't really care about people. Maybe you should ask that person what they gave up to help others.
Odds are they don't have a 6-figure educational loan hanging over their fat heads, either.