Monday, April 09, 2012

Health Care That Can Make You Sick

If you’re in a waiting room where the TV set is always on Fox News, you may want to check your doctor bills.

In this era of politicized health care, a study by medical specialists finds “many profitable tests and procedures are performed unnecessarily and may harm patients. By some estimates, unnecessary treatment constitutes one-third of medical spending in the United States.”

Their list of overused lab work includes X-rays, brain imaging and bone scans that are not needed when they are ordered.

Future lists by other specialists are forthcoming, but all this is only the tip of the health care fraud-and-abuse iceberg.

Any reasonably alert patient in recent years has a personal list of providers who specialize more in billing than healing: dermatologists who nick off a small cyst and charge Medicare for surgery; podiatrists who inflate five minutes of nail-paring into hundreds of dollars; physical therapists who put clients on an exercise machine and walk away to file insurance claims.

Five years ago, the FBI estimated “phony bills” and “excessive treatments” to cost taxpayers more than $60 billion dollars a year and climbing and, now as Congress and the Court try to nullify Obamacare, who knows how much the tab for free-market cheating may be.

As a New York Times editorial notes: “Patients with comprehensive health insurance may not care much if needless tests are performed. But if health care costs continue to soar, patients will be shouldering more of the financial burden. And there can be serious health consequences from unnecessary treatment, including excess radiation, adverse drug effects, exposure to germs in medical institutions and even exploratory surgery or biopsies when scans produce a false positive.

"Eliminating needless care is not rationing. It is sound medicine and sound economics.”

Oddly enough, the best commentary on all this may come from megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who tells an interviewer that the main source of Americans’ current problems is “our inability to delay gratification. I want it and I want it now, and I’m going to buy it even if I can’t afford it.”

Health care is on that list.

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