Monday, February 25, 2013

The Great Health Care Swindle

I’m tired of cancer, exhausted of thinking and talking about it, bored with my experiences and those of others.  I am tired of having my ears perk up at the mere mention of the word, written or spoken, and I am really weary of the post-surgical listlessness that has taken me over. The good news is that, according to The New Good Doctor (TNGD) I am at least for now clean. I have dodged a bullet. Undoubtedly, other bullets are on the way but for now I’ve bought some time to do the things I need to do, even if I am not completely sure what these things might entail.

What I have been doing is writing, cleaning house, reading, sleeping far more than I should, and making beef stews that get better and better with practice. I’ve seen a few friends but not many. I am fascinated by the economic contortions the country—and the world—are going through, and vaguely amused by the doomsayers. Folks, let’s face it, not a single major or minor national economy is going to fail. If the Greeks are still above water financially, the rest of us are probably going to come out OK.

All these gyrations, though, have left me wondering about the merchant class, which I define as the large group of business people who create nothing and essentially resell what they have purchased for a slightly—or criminally—higher fee. I’ve always found it fascinating that in cultures predating the Industrial Revolution, the merchant class was considered, well, about as low as you could get, really, often below the peasantry and far beneath the military, the intellectuals and the clergy.

Then I began reading an exposé by Time magazine on the health industry, which includes hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, giant technological concerns like GE that make medical testing equipment, resellers, insurance behemoths and smaller businesses such as ambulance service and aftercare rehabs. I recommend the piece to anyone who’s been in the hospital, is scheduled to be, or has a loved one there.

The more I read the story, the angrier I became. What we have in the health care world, as we all know, is an ungovernable quagmire that is rapacious beyond the imagination of mere mortals. The $2 aspirin tablet and $4 Band Aid are barely the tip of the iceberg; hospitals, both for- and non-profit are fortresses of theft, duplicity and what can only be called flagrantly immoral conduct. Clients are fleeced by a system that no one is willing to explain or change. There are tales of $50,000 emergency room visits for stomach aches, even as hospital administrators are paid millions to protect the status quo. What we’re dealing with are financial slaughterhouses designed to fleece the trusting and the ill who are already largely incapable of defending themselves. In fact, they don’t even know they’re being swindled.

Thousands go bankrupt annually because of medical costs and needless tests ordered by doctors who want to maximize both their fees and those charged by the hospitals which they—the doctors—might partially own. Often, the tests will be performed supposedly to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits, but the fact is that over the years, both Republicans and Democrats have torpedoes grassroots efforts to limit such suits, or institute best-practice systems that would make doubtful lawsuits more difficult to press and less profitable. What we basically have is a perfect storm of perfidy that involves every person in the system, except for the patient.  

I seldom recommend reading or trusting the mass media. But you should read this.

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