Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams Says the American Healthcare System Is Broken After a $5,000 Bill for Dehydration

By: Lauren Fokas | Last updated: Apr 10, 2024

The debate over the American healthcare system is not new. However, a recent announcement from the former US Surgeon General has sparked yet another conversation about the extreme expense for any kind of medical care.

After receiving a $5,000 medical bill for being treated for dehydration, former US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, told the world on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the healthcare system in America is “broken.”

Dr. Adams’ Emergency Visit to the Mayo Clinic

From 2017-2021, Dr. Jerome Adams was the country’s Surgeon General, making him the most well-known and respected doctor in the USA.

Exterior of the emergency room entrance at the Mayo Clinic

Source: @MayoClinic/X

Last month, he took himself to the emergency room at the Mayo Clinic after feeling the extreme effects of dehydration while on vacation.

A Few Lab Tests and IV Bags Did the Trick

Luckily, for Adams, all he needed were a couple of IV bags to replenish his system. The doctors at the clinic also ran routine tests to ensure dehydration was the true cause of his ailments, and they all came back negative.

Photograph of a hospital IV bag hanging

Source: iStock

Dr. Adams left the ER after only a few hours, but a while later, he was shocked to receive a bill of $5,000 for his visit.

Adams Took to X to Talk About His Bill

The former Surgeon General then posted on his X profile, detailing why he was at the hospital and even including a photo of the bill he received.

Screenshot of a post by @JeromeAdamsMD on X

Source: @JeromeAdamsMD/X

His post read, “Recently had an ER visit for dehydration while out of town. Received some labs and 3 IV bags/ Here’s the bill-AFTER insurance. It’s no wonder medical debt is the top cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.”

The World Weighed in on Adams’ Situation

As with any online debate, Dr. Adams received a wide variety of comments on his post. Some were messages of support and sympathy, but others called out the famous surgeon, saying that if he had a better insurance policy, he wouldn’t have had to pay $5,000 for a few IV bags.

Screenshot of posts by @JeromeAdamsMD on X

Source: @JeromeAdamsMD/X

Adams quickly responded, telling his followers exactly which insurance coverage he has. He also went on to say that his high-deductible plan is “the least worst option for most people in a broken system.”

“Healthcare Coverage in the US Is a Gamble”

Adams also wrote, “healthcare coverage in the US is a gamble, and the house always wins,” essentially saying that no matter what kind of insurance or lack thereof that an American may have, they will not “win” against the system.

Two guys playing poker and one wins everything

Source: Freepik

Not only is healthcare wildly more expensive than it should be, but Adams also argues that the lack of transparency from medical institutions is a real crime.


Going to the Hospital Is Sometimes Riskier Than the Illness Itself

When something goes wrong, Americans often weigh the pros and cons of going to see a doctor. They may think to themselves, “Do I really feel bad enough to spend thousands of dollars at the hospital?”

Woman lying in a hospital bed looking sad while a doctor goes over her paperwork

Source: Freepik

And because they can’t know for sure how much their visit will cost, some who truly need medical attention decide to live in pain instead.


It’s Not Just the Uninsured Who Feel This Way

Dr. Adams’ situation proves it’s not only those without insurance who have to worry about an exorbitant bill after a routine hospital visit.

Man is clearly overwhelmed as he looks over his bills

Source: Freepik

Adams explained, “If I’m in this situation with my knowledge and with my financial resources and with my bully pulpit, then the average Joe doesn’t stand a chance.”


Insured vs Uninsured

Adams’ case also proves how many Americans still face high medical bills even though they’re insured. They have health insurance and are still having to pay incredibly high costs out of pocket.

A doctor holding a stethoscope and wearing a white lab coat.

Source: Online Marketing/Unsplash

Those who are uninsured have to pay even more. In today’s healthcare system, unfortunately, both the insured and the uninsured have large bills to pay.



Regrettably, the healthcare system often doesn’t work for those who have health insurance. According to the Commonwealth Fund, about 43% of American adults are “underinsured.”

A doctor wearing a white lab coat talking to a patient.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Underinsured Americans often don’t receive the full access they need to proper care. They have to pay out of pocket, similarly to what Adams has had to do. Underinsurance can often lead to incredibly high medical bills that saddle many in massive debt after just one medical incident.


Understanding Medical Debt in the United States

While many Americans feel the personal pressures of medical expenses, most don’t realize that the vast majority of their friends and neighbors are also struggling with medical debt.

A medical billing statement that details medical procedures and what is owed.

Source: iStock

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Peterson Center on Healthcare Research, 20 million Americans owe money, thanks to medical bills, and these debts are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy.


Medical Bankruptcies in America

The United States has a unique problem among its population: its citizens often go through bankruptcy because of healthcare debt. This problem isn’t seen in other wealthy nations, such as the United Kingdom, to such a great extent.

A close-up of many American flags underneath a clear blue sky.

Source: David Everett Strickler/Unsplash

According to The American Journal of Medicine, medical expenses were the most common reason why Americans had to file for bankruptcy in 2007. About 62% of all these cases dealt with healthcare debt, compared to 1981’s 8%.


Threats of Collection

Anyone who has gone through the process of trying to pay medical bills knows that the threat of the bill being sent to collections agencies is never far behind. Adams himself received this threat quickly after receiving his bill two months after he received treatment.

A man on a laptop in a cafe worried with his head in his hand.

Source: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

The threat of collection agencies going after people worries many. However, Americans have long stated that hospitals don’t seem to work with people as they try to pay these bills. Reporting has even confirmed that hospitals often threaten to sue their patients if they don’t pay.


Outstanding Bills

Even worse, Americans who haven’t paid off their medical bills can be rejected from future hospital visits. Ariane Buck, a man who sells health insurance, faced this catastrophe when he was suffering from a severe intestinal infection.

A close-up of American dollars folded on a green surface

Source: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Buck tried to make an appointment with his doctor about this infection. However, the office wouldn’t allow him to see his doctor — as they said he had outstanding bills he hadn’t paid back yet.


Struggling in Medical Debt

These cases of people facing medical debt aren’t uncommon. So many Americans face these issues on a daily basis. Many of them feel that the country — and its politicians — aren’t doing anything to change this unfortunate problem.

A man opening his wallet to see that there’s nothing in there.

Source: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Unsplash

Adams seemingly agrees with these Americans after his own experience further highlights how broken the healthcare system is.


Will the Government Ever Step In and Change the “Broken” System?

 With Adams’ recent post on many minds, Americans are wondering, more than ever before, if the government will ever step in and finally change this “broken” system.

On the left, President Joe Biden in an official photo for the White House. On the right, former President Donald Trump, with an American flag and White House in the background.

Source: Adam Shultz/Library of Congress | Library of Congress/Unsplash

Currently, President Joe Biden has no proposed plans for eliminating private insurance and has never publicly supported a universal healthcare program. However, according to CNN, Biden has called for a government-run option via the Affordable Health Care Act. But former president and candidate for the 2024 election, Donald Trump, has made it clear that he has no plans to offer government assistance for healthcare if he becomes president.


Getting Rid of Private Health Insurance

Recently, many advocates of universal healthcare — or Medicare For All — have pushed for the idea of completely eliminating private health insurance. If this happens, then Americans will no longer face mountains of debt after they go to the hospital.

Protestors with signs at a Medicare For All rally in Los Angeles.

Source: Molly Adams/Wikimedia Commons

However, Adams says adopting universal healthcare would never work in our country, as too many players and people profit from the current system. They’d never let this happen.


What About the No Surprises Act?

Technically, Congress approved the No Surprises Act in 2022, which ensured patients wouldn’t have to pay an exorbitant bill if they accidentally visited a doctor outside their insurance network.

Exterior of the US Congress building

Source: iStock

However, this bill did nothing to curtail the ever-growing cost of hospital stays, doctors visits, lab tests, or any other kind of necessary medical care.


The American Healthcare System Needs an Upgrade

There are few Americans who don’t feel that the nation’s healthcare needs at least an upgrade, if not a complete makeover.

Business meeting in which on man gives a presentation about health insurance

Source: Freepik

Many can’t afford health insurance at all, others have insurance but have such high deductibles that they avoid the hospital anyway, and those who are simply too sick to stay home end up thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in debt.


Changes to the American Healthcare System

Adams is now using the fact that he’s a public figure to bring awareness to how the American healthcare system is broken. However, the former surgeon general is confident that things can change.

A white and black close-up of a doctor’s stethoscope.

Source: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography/Unsplash

According to Adams, the entire system needs greater transparency when it comes to costs. He also believes an independent arbitration process could help millions of Americans.


More Transparency

One of the main things Adams wants to see is more transparency in the overall healthcare system. He believes that Americans shouldn’t be shocked with bills months after they went to the doctor.

Many doctors in a surgery room perform on a patient.

Source: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Adams has pointed out that many other industries are incredibly transparent. They had to be, thanks to the law. So, why can’t healthcare professionals and institutions also have this transparency?


Why Transparency Matters

Transparency matters for a variety of reasons. Americans should know what they’ll be expected to pay before they have any doctor visit or operation done on them. This can help combat massive medical debt.

A doctor talks beside the hospital bed of a patient.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Adams said, “You can’t have a market without transparency and without accountability — and right now, if I went to a car dealer, they would have to tell me how much the car costs.”


Allowing Patients More Access to Contest

Adams has also explained that patients should have more of an ability to contest any massive charges that hospitals send them. Therefore, there needs to be some sort of arbitration process.

A pregnant woman in pain in a hospital room.

Source: Jimmy Conover/Unsplash

Currently, hospitals are basically given full control of the financial situation. What they say goes. Adams believes patients should be able to have a recourse action to contest what the hospital is charging them.


Adams Knows He Can Help

As the former surgeon general, Adams knows that he’s in a luckier position than many other Americans when it comes to things such as finances. Regardless, he feels he can help.

An official portrait photo of Jerome Adams.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

“My complaint isn’t about me personally, because I will be okay — but I do have a voice,” he explained.