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Plain and Simple for Feb. 28, 0213
SoVaNow.com / February 26, 2013Occasionally I recommend a book or an article to you. This week I heartily endorse the article by Steven Brill that is in the March 4, issue of Time Magazine entitled, “Why Medical Bills are Killing Us.” We are in the midst of a debate over the merits of Obamacare while Brill argues that the real question is why medical care in America costs so much to begin with.
Brill dazzles us with facts that should depress us. We spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, England, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and Australia. Congress balked at helping out with Hurricane Sandy relief to the tune of $60 billion dollars. We spend almost that much money each week on health care in America. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than Hollywood collects at the box office.
But are we getting our money’s worth? We rank number 50 in the world in infant mortality behind countries such as Cuba and Hungary. Our life expectancy is number 51, behind countries such as Jordan and Puerto Rico. The cost of procedures can range from $16,578 for a coronary bypass in Germany to $67,583 in the U.S. An appendectomy is $3,164 in France and $13,003 in America. Brill analyzes individual bills to root out individual Tylenol pills that cost $1.49 and accu-check strips that cost $18 apiece.
We tend not to get too excited about our bills because we are treated first and pay later. Many of us never really look at the bill because the insurance pays—unless we have no insurance. I had rotator cuff surgery done about four years ago. My bill was for $10,000. My insurance negotiated it down to roughly $400 and paid it. If I had had no insurance, I would have been on the hook for the whole bill. Even with insurance, I went through the experience of being denied coverage twice over the next couple of years and then being picked up again.
But where does the money go? One thing I learned from Brill’s article is that non-profit hospitals make large profits. Those profits cannot be sent out as dividends but they can be paid as salaries and used to expand facilities. CEOs of the hospitals often make much more than the leaders of the schools with which they are associated (for instance, Yale, Duke, and Vanderbilt).
What can we do? We can understand that lobbyists for the health and pharmaceutical industrials spend more money on Congress than the defense industry.
There is money out there keeping the status quo. It is a moral issue to provide health care at a fair price. Let’s pay attention to what is happening and do something about it.
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