Frequent Fliers of the Washington Heights


The United States spends 16 percent of GDP on health care—the OECD average is 8.9—and there is a broad consensus amongst Democrats and Republicans that the current system needs to be drastically overhauled and coverage expanded. The New York Post talks to amateur health care policy expert Ricky Alardo, who enages in weekly inspections of Manhattan hospitals, on why health care costs are so high. His answer? Popov.

Ricky Alardo, a homeless alcoholic nicknamed Ricky Ricardo, swigs cheap vodka by day at his favorite corner in Washington Heights, then calls an ambulance to chauffeur him to the hospital for a free meal and a warm place to sleep, courtesy of taxpayers who fund his Medicaid benefits.

For a chronic caller like Alardo—who phones 911 four or five times a week—the annual medical bill can be as high as $300,000. Over 13 years, the length of time he has been abusing the emergency room, he has cost the medical system an estimated $3.9 million.

In Midtown, another bum, Robert, has faked emergencies to get food and shelter in ERs about 40 or 50 times in the past three years -- and taxpayers pick up his tab, too. Ricky and Robert are among the dozens of "frequent fliers" who clog the 911 system, tie up city ambulances, crowd emergency rooms and burn through Medicaid money. An ambulance ride alone can run as much as $800, and an ER visit can cost, conservatively, $400 a pop, according to estimates from medical experts…

"They take space. They take nursing resources. They're a drain on the staff's energy level and emotions," said Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, of Camden, NJ, who has studied the issue. "They're costing the system in both direct and hidden ways." Brenner's research found Medicaid paid $46 million for the top 1 percent of Camden's frequent fliers, or 1,035 patients, during a five-year period.

A pilot program at Bellevue Hospital has cut ER visits by 67 percent among "high-cost" Medicaid patients by finding them their own doctors, housing and even cellphones to keep in touch with their doctors, according to a recent report by the United Hospital Fund.

It is only a matter of time, I suppose, before governments target the makers of fine products like Bankers Club and Kentucky Gentleman to "recover health care costs" associated with Ricky Alardo's illness. Also, for Europeans planning a visit to Manhattan, you might want to consider doing an end run around those expensive, rundown midtown hotels by getting loaded and decamping to this full service establishment in the West Village.