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THE VIEW FROM HERE: REAL HEALTH-CARE CRISIS COMES DOWN TO ABSURD COSTS AND THE SIN OF GREED
In the debates on health care, we seem to have all but ignored the key problem: fundamental health costs to begin with.
We have been saying this for a long while:
While politicians argue over how to pay for the extraordinary price tags, no one has addressed the issue of costs themselves.
When we take advantage of others, it is a moral wrong, and there is too much of this currently in what might be called the medical--hospital-pharmaceutical complex. The real health-care crisis is greed.
The costs arrive in many ways.
There are the drugs.
A report by the Mayo Clinic shows that nearly seventy percent of Americans (ninety percent of those over sixty) are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two.
Antibiotics, antidepressants and painkilling opioids are most commonly prescribed, their study found. Twenty percent of patients are on five or more prescription medications, according to the findings (published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings).
Incredible it is, how many of our youth are on "attention-deficit" medication, when it's questionable whether that's even a legitimate medical condition. There are vaccines. Vaccines, vaccines, and more vaccines, some of them with questionable ingredients such as mercury.
Incredible also it is how our society causes cancer in many cases through the pervasive use of toxic chemicals and poor dietary practices and then seeks to cure the cancer using yet other equally harsh and toxic chemicals. (Chemotherapy was invented when researchers saw the cell-killing properties of chemical warfare gas).
Our entire way of approaching health is very badly aslant -- so complicated as to often call it into question. The most dangerous place to be, these days, with the prevalence of staph and MRSA, can be the hospital.
We need to think about that.
It is certainly the most expensive place to be.
A report, by journalist Stephen Brill, noted that hospitals routinely charge $77 for a box of gauze that would cost a dollar -- one dollar -- in a supermarket.
We understand that some of these costs are because of many who use emergency rooms and can't pay. There is also all that paperwork.
But some items are marked up at 100 times their actual cost.
Radiation treatment for breast cancer is $25,000 or more -- with hardly any contact with the radiologist.
The same costs apply to eight weeks of (often ineffective, or even damaging) chemotherapy. Recently a hundred oncologists penned a letter complaining of how much such drugs cost (up to $200,000).
A heart-valve replacement can come in at $80,000 to $200,000 (with surgeons doing several in a day).
Installing a pacemaker can cost between $25,000 and $50,000.
There is too much surgery.
A recent report by USA Today after a review of government records indicated that unnecessary surgeries might account for ten to twenty percent of all operations in some specialties, including a wide range of cardiac procedures — not only stents, but also angioplasty and pacemaker implants — as well as many spinal surgeries. Knee replacements, hysterectomies, and cesarean sections are among the other surgical procedures performed more often than needed, according to a review of in-depth studies and data generated by both government and academic sources.
Whatever the actual percentages, suffice it to say that each year tens of thousands enter operating rooms for surgeries that aren't necessary -- and that may even make life more difficult. Every decade, it seems, there's a new surgical fad. (Remember tonsillectomies, or appendectomies?)
Right now, everyone has a hip replacement. There are even preventative mastectomies.
There are good doctors. Many, many. The majority. There are great doctors. There are many holy doctors. We know a good number of them. Doctors often work very, very hard -- grueling hours. They work under tremendous tension. Yes, they have to pay for school. They are smart. They are skilled. Mostly, they are very dedicated. They are inhibited by paperwork and absurd malpractice claims (which also cause heightened insurance costs). There are many heroic ones. Where would we be without them? How many would like to see them all disappear? No one. We need them. Moreover, most malpractice claims against them are frivolous.
But let's all be honest: In the long run, when all is said and done, school and malpractice costs are not a massive percentage (reportedly 3.2 percent) next to revenue.
When a "profession" becomes a "business," as is sometimes the case (in any number of professions), we're all in trouble. A billboard near Orlando, Florida for an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacements begins with the huge letters: "HIP-HOORAY!" Down the road are billboards advertising lawyers who seek accident victims: call 1-800-I-AM-HURT, or whatever. (If that kind of thing keeps up, the public will be forgiven for taking a second look at everything.)
Insurance companies? They are also a problem, and jump quickly to raise the price. But sometimes it's hard to conceive of how they pay the astronomical bills that flow from operating rooms, where costs vary widely and wildly. In Saint Augustine, Fla., one hospital typically billed nearly $40,000 to remove a gallbladder using minimally invasive surgery, while one in Orange Park, Florida -- just up the road -- charged $91,000. In one hospital in Dallas, the average bill for treating simple pneumonia was $14,610, while another there charged over $38,000. [Check out this video.] We all know what a trip to an emergency room costs!
Abroad, a colonoscopy is often under $1,000, while in the U.S. it can be up to $9,000. An M.R.I. in the U.S. average: $1,121. In Europe, average: $319.
Hospitals charge thousands of dollars for cat-scans that cost vastly less than that to conduct. The same for that EEG at the physician's office (and the x-ray at the dentist's). Chief hospital administrators often make a million-and-a-half dollars a year (far more than doctors who actually save lives). Meanwhile, nurses are grossly underpaid.
Neither Obamacare nor Republican approaches tackle this real issue: exorbitant prices to begin with: $995 for an ambulance ride, $13,225 for one day in the ICU.
Compare the costs of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. with those in Europe.
One website reports that while the consumer price for a popular allergy drug is $130.27 for a hundred tablets, the cost of the general active ingredients is sixty cents (or two hundred times less). A drug that controls cholesterol -- which may not even be the prime cause of arterial disease (according to recent research) -- can cost $272.37 for a hundred tablets, though the actual cost of the active ingredients is $5.80.
For instance, look at Nexium, a drug commonly prescribed to treat acid reflux, notes an article. In Spain, a prescription for Nexium costs, on average, $18. In France and the United Kingdom, Nexium costs, on average, $30 and $32 respectively. But here in the United States, a prescription for Nexium costs, on average, a whopping $187, six times as much as it costs in France and the UK.
In Missouri, some Medicare patients were charged $18 for a single baby aspirin.
In Boca Raton, Florida, a woman said in an interview that her hospital charged $71 for one blood pressure pill for which her neighborhood pharmacy charges 16 cents.
Meanwhile, natural remedies are all but totally ignored. And longevity in the U.S. is below a good number of nations where spending is substantially less.
This is taking advantage and the opposite of Christianity.
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[see also: The 2.7 trillion bill]
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