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"Those who profit on the health of others," said a recent word of knowledge of which we were made aware, "will find their reward in the jewels of hell."

That's a pretty harsh assessment -- if it's a true "word."

Yet, we live at a time of exorbitant health-care costs. We know of someone whose monthly health-insurance bill just went up due to new poorly designed government programs and the simple cost of basic doctoring and hospitalization and drugs from $700 to close to $2,000 (for less coverage); they were notified by a postcard. In the U.S., one recent year, the average price-tag for a heart bypass was $75,000, while in the Netherlands, which scores higher on ratings for the quality of health care than does the U.S., the same surgery was $15,000. An average hospital stay per day in the U.S. was listed as $4,293, whereas in Spain it was ten times less ($481). In the U.S., a patient on Nexium pays $245 a year for the drug while in the Netherlands it's $23. Recently, a new chemotherapy drug was released, with hope afresh for those afflicted by malignancy -- but at a cost $12,500 a month (making it prohibitively expensive for most). 

The common refrain is that we are paying for better quality and also pharmaceutical research, but it has become clear that's not really the full story. For though America has the highest medical costs, the U.S., in terms of performance, was dead last in one study of the most medically advanced nations. We know an engineer who was working south of Rio de Janeiro in San Jose, Brazil, and needed emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder. The good news was that they could do it right away; the bad news, they told him, was that his U.S. insurance policy would not provide coverage. He had no choice but to go through with it. To his surprise and delight, he found himself in the best hospital he had ever been in (his room was a suite, with a living room and kitchenette) and made a complete recovery from a flawless surgery that has had no repercussions. He was amazed at the quality. His bill (and granted, this was when the dollar was valued higher, and a dozen years ago): $1,300, including prep and x-rays. "The doctors are dedicated and consider their work a vocation," he wrote us, "not a road to riches."

Part of the current crisis is due to government meddling. Some is from the burden of malpractice suits. Doctors are overwhelmed with paperwork. The government often doesn't compensate properly. But very much is from the simple fact that in too many places, health care is now a business instead of a profession. We applaud the many great doctors out there. We personally know a good number -- Christian ones -- whose hearts are in the right places: doctors, surgeons, dentists, including relatives; we look at residents who work eighty hours a week and graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We look at the physicians who volunteer during Ebola outbreaks in Africa.  One must consider this. But with an increasingly disconcerting frequency it seems like they are in the minority, or becoming a minority, as kids graduating from college now make decisions between medical school or selling bonds on Wall Street. Along Florida highways are billboards with a photo of a doctor advertising vasectomies. We're most concerned with hospital costs and what "big pharma" is doing (including its control, through advertising, of medical journals). As Forbes showed a few years back, one New York City-area hospital was charging $99,690 for a cardio-pulmonary operation that another hospital in the area charged just $7,000 for. Where is the government here? A sprained ankle could cost $4 at an emergency room -- or $24,110 (see this shocking account). In some cases, patients in emergency rooms are charged $30 for a single aspirin.

There is darkness here, where there should be the light of compassion. We recall a book by a Florida cardiologist named Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall  whose own son had cancer. He and wife Deborah found the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard (supposedly the world's foremost place for childhood cancer) a "frightening place" where kids had been reduced to walking wraiths with hair gone and limbs amputated -- a "darkened atmosphere" that they rejected. "This place is evil," said Deborah. And they left. That's a well-known Christian surgeon talking. We all encounter that sterility and coldness from time to time. In other cases, the opposite: accounts of nurses (and doctors) who are next to angels. So many of them are! Hats off. And to those doctors who work endless hours, particularly as residents.

Good people. Great people. They sacrifice. They incur very long, stressful, arduous hours. No doubt: It's wrong to lump everyone in any profession all together. Can we complain about other professions? Of course. There are many things that have fallen awry in this country (a devolution that is now accelerating). Professions and institutions across the board have been degraded.

But something is very deeply and fundamentally wrong and hasn't been addressed in all the hullabaloo by all sides in the health-care debate. While there are complaints of socialism in the new health-care legislation -- a criticism that in many ways is correct -- there is also the fact that in the pharmaceutical, hospital, laboratory, and medical sectors, capitalism has run amok. Too often, our health has become a money-making venture, a commodity ("whatever the market will bear," or, "what is it worth to you?"), and it sullies the reputations of all those truly good, wonderful physicians and surgeons and scientists who really are in it for the right reason: to serve. Anyone in it for another reason has the Lord to answer to.

[resources: Why Is God Punishing Me? and New: What You Take To Heaven]

[see also: How can drug companies justify this?]

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