The Healthcare Fixation
Focus on insurance fogs the real issue
by Michael Braunstein
The “Health Care” Fixation
Focus on insurance fogs the real issue
Osama bin Laden, North Korea, terrorism, economic meltdown, global warming — it’s all taken a back seat to the latest fear-based obsession, casually lumped into the phrase “health care reform.” The reality is that the plans offered look less like reform of care for Americans’ health and more like a scheme to line the pockets of big corporations with taxpayer dollars while increasing the customer base for the insurance industry. None of the plans actively address the deadly flaws in the health care system.
What is currently touted is a plan to insure all Americans with a sort of mandatory health insurance perhaps patterned on the Massachusetts program. That’s exactly what we don’t need: streaming more Americans into a broken medical care system that many say is already DOA.
Few, especially those who work in it, argue that the current health care system in this country isn’t in dire need of repair. Time was when politicians would pepper speeches with the phrase, “… best health care system in the world.” We don’t hear that now. By nearly every criterion except cost, the US health care system ranks near the bottom.
The primary failings of American medicine are the over-reliance on technology and drugs and the profit-motivated nature of the business. It’s a system we should be trying to keep people out of, not get them into, until and if it’s repaired.
Pharmaceutical drugs are simply too powerful, unpredictable and dangerous to be used as such a frontline tool. Elvis, Anna Nicole, Heath and now Michael are just the highest profile of a yearly toll of 106,000 deaths attributed to adverse drug reactions from legally prescribed and properly administered drugs. That number comes from research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. According to other researchers, the number of people having in-hospital, adverse drug reactions to prescribed medicine is 2.2 million. Data showed “the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections was 20 million. The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million. The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million. Summary of the research found the annual number of medicine-caused deaths is 783,936. It is evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the United States.” (webdc.com/pdfs/deathbymedicine.pdf)
WHY DOES HEALTH CARE COST SO MUCH? AS DEEP THROAT SAID, "FOLLOW THE MONEY."
Our current President describes a system with “…warped incentives that reward doctors and hospitals based on how many tests or procedures they prescribe, even if those tests or procedures aren’t necessary or result from medical mistakes.”
Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes are four of the top five causes of death in the US. All are diseases largely preventable by lifestyle choices. Increasing doctor visits has not been proven to prevent any of those conditions. Changing diet and lifestyle has.
Hospitals, drug companies and the rest of the industry are increasingly spending more money on marketing their wares. Look around. Hospitals buy billboards and commercials. Healthcare oligarchies are sponsoring events, dances, concerts, amphitheatres — anything they can get their name attached to — just to increase market share.
A survey by histalk.com, a website devoted to health care IT news, found that 80 percent of health care marketers planned to spend at least as much on marketing in 2009 as they did in 2008. 42 percent of those were going to increase spending; this at a time when the economy is in the dumps and the industry is laying off practitioners and cutting services. With a bottom-line oriented business such as that, where does patient care find a place?
It’s hard to estimate how much money the current American health care system spends on improving patient outcomes but it is certainly clear that medical outcomes in nearly every other industrial country on the globe surpass ours. In one 2008 ranking, the US was last out of 19 countries in the quality of health care.
So where does the money paid to the health care industry go? Influence peddling is the short answer, whether it is to the public with advertising or to politicians with lobbying.
Persons older than about 45 may recall that we didn’t always see ads for hospitals, doctors and drugs on television or billboards. Those arenas mostly hosted spiels from soap flakes, autos, cigarettes and the like. It was a 1975 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates by supporting doctor ads as a form of free speech. Since that fateful day, the industry has been throwing money around like crazy on advertising and ensuring maximized profit.
In the 1990s, it became legal to advertise drugs directly to consumers. The US remains the only country aside from New Zealand that allows that. The drug industry spends fully twice as much on promotion as it does on research. The health care industry overall is spending $1.4 million a day on Washington lobbying efforts in 2009, according to non-profit watchdog Common Cause.
MORE INSURANCE IS NOT THE ANSWER
Increasing insurance coverage is not the answer. In fact, insurance coverage may be the problem. No other industrialized nation has our kind of coverage system and no other country has our kind of problem.
People with insurance tend to rush to the doctor or the emergency room for the slightest woe. Data shows that it’s the insured who are the reason emergency rooms are crowded, going there for non-emergent situations that could be handled either at home or by a family doctor.
Would mandated insurance cover traditional practices like acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional therapies, etc. or just drug and surgery-based ones?
In a recent talk, Obama admits hospitals are not always the best place to be, “…because oftentimes being in a hospital actually increases the incidence of infection, for example.”
You have to ask yourself, which do you want: Health or health insurance?