Fun facts and sad truths about hospitals

January 2014

If you were a medieval traveler in, say, 1300 or so, you’d spend many a night searching for a hospital.

Would you be seeking treatment for the Black Plague?

A jousting injury?

Perhaps leprosy, one of the period’s most-feared diseases?

Actually, your quest wouldn’t be nearly so dramatic: In the Middle Ages, a hospital was a hotel or hostel where pilgrims could rest their weary heads.

The word “hospital” wasn’t defined as a place for medical care until around 1600, when modern treatment plans included using leeches for bloodletting and hot irons to cure hemorrhoids.

Doctors in the Middle Ages billed on a sliding scale, depending on the patient’s wealth and status. While a nobleman might pay 10 livres, a king would pay 10 times that amount.

Today, costs vary by country and treatment: In 2012, a one-day stay in a U.S. hospital averaged $4,287. In France, the average was $853; in Argentina, $429.1

Health care costs: almost as scary as being sick

Most people’s stomachs do flips when they open their mailboxes to find their final invoices lurking inside.

It’s no surprise that hospital bills are so scary when you consider that many families are living paycheck to paycheck. Americans’ track record when it comes to saving money isn’t exactly stellar: Half of all households are “financially fragile.” 2

Click here to learn more about the history of hospitals, and to find out how your benefit plans can help modern Americans cope with mounting health care costs.

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1 Financially Fragile Households: Evidence and Implications, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 17072, accessed May 14, 2013
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