Surgicenters Will Add To Health Care Costs

December 2, 2005
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There used to be a gas station (remember when we called them “service” stations?) on every corner, and that competition was a good thing. Now the man who wears the star has given way to Starbucks, and coffee on every corner is well and good, too. (Gas guzzler to coffee guzzler — both fuel, only the receptacle has changed.) But do we want a surgery center on every corner, maybe with a shill outside dressed in a reader board, urging folks to “come on in” for a daytime procedure or two? No and emphatically no.

Health care is not gas or coffee; neither is it widgets. Goodness knows how these pages defend the free enterprise system, and rail at government regulation of it. But when it comes to health care, we all must do what is ... healthy. Good for our physical health and good for our economic health, for one certainly leads to the other.

A story on page 1 today describes proposals for eight new freestanding “surgicenters” in West Michigan ... $84 million in construction in all. It’s all part of the West Michigan transformation into a health care hub, right? MSUMedicalSchool last week, eight surgicenters this week. Not hardly. We don’t need to go to our neighborhood surgeon like we go to a 7-11. It’s not as if you’re going to walk home after. A proliferation of surgery centers is not likely to lower health care costs, but raise them.

There’s no question that outpatient surgery is a profit center; ask any hospital, where most surgeries (thankfully) are still done. And that profit helps nonprofit hospitals stay on their feet, care for the indigent, and expand and improve services and facilities. Skim off that cream and we may find ourselves left with spilt milk.

Then there’s the nursing shortage: Thirteen West Michigan hospitals participating in a recent survey say they are short a total of 214 nurses on an average day. So let’s fix that by building a bunch of tony surgicenters and spiriting away any number of surgical nurses. Work only days, do a lot of cosmetic procedures, nothing life-threatening. Leave all that to the hospitals — and the few nurses who are left.

The rash of surgicenter applications is an effort to sneak in under the wire of a proposed change in regulations. The Michigan Department of Community Health Dec. 13 will rule on a proposal that would limit the number of surgicenters allowed in the state. Every once in a while a new government regulation is a good thing!

Our neighbors to the immediate south tried this street-corner surgery and it didn’t improve the Hoosier reputation. Costs went up, and hospitals were left hurting as badly as their patients.

The simple rules of supply and demand do not always apply. That’s even true with coffee: There were no coffee houses from the ’60s until Starbucks, and now they are all over and the price has gone ... way up! That’s because of great marketing. We don’t need great marketing of surgicenters to boost health care costs that are skyrocketing like gas did recently — but unlike gas prices, never come down. Bring back that corner service station — for our cars, not our knees.    

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