Health Care

Who looks out for us?

October 31, 2015
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Much has been made of the cost of drugs — the ones you take to help you that is.

Drug costs in the U.S. are much higher than in other countries. For instance, an acid reflux drug that costs $215 in the U.S. costs only $23 in the Netherlands.

Our politicians, both red and blue, have taken note of Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of an infection-fighting pill from $13.50 to $750. Politicians have decried this, although it was our politicians who instituted handcuffs in health care (at least for Medicare) by insisting that the government not use its market power to negotiate prices. Prices are set by the supplier, and we can take them or leave them. Obviously, we want our insurers to pay the price of whatever we need, but . . .

Is the Turnig Pharmaceutical experience something that we really need to address? Or is it simply our market economy at work? How about the hospital that purchases a device to regulate heartbeats for $8,000, but charges the patient $27,000? Remember the $5 aspirin? Don’t forget the needless surgeries that led to second surgical opinions. Excess charges abound, but isn’t that the result of free-market thinking?

Do we think health care is different from other elements of our economy? If so, why? Is there some sort of moral imperative attached to charges for health care? What is the difference between inflated prices for health care and inflated prices for any other consumer goods or services? Should greed somehow not enter into our equation? If so, health care will need a lot of restructuring.

Does the price of a car not include profits for the maker? How about the price of an airline ticket? Do the prices for supplies for our armed forces also include profits and are some of these excessive? Remember the $600 toilet seats?

Many years ago, President Richard Nixon instituted wage and price controls in the nation. At that time there was a lot of consideration of the ratio between various people’s incomes. For instance, a hospital administrator was considered to be worth 5 to 7 times more than a nurse. What is the wage differential today? Certainly not a factor of 5 to 7. That is in health care. What is the ratio between the president of a major conglomerate and the line workers making some of the products that are sold? How about the ratios between attorneys and their support staff?

Who looks out for the various prices for health care? A hospital administrator today asks to be evaluated in relation to the amount of money the hospital takes in. It‘s to the advantage of the administrator to take in more money. Today an administrator of a $1-billion operation is considered less worthy than the administrator of a $2-billion hospital. The higher the total of charges, the more the administrator considers himself/herself worth. Similarly, an insurance administrator makes more if the amount of income versus outgo increases. Where is the incentive to economize — to look after the interests of the customer? Who looks out for the customer? 

Having politicians look at pharmaceutical prices focuses on only one aspect of the high cost of health care. Don’t forget that our health care costs in the U.S. exceed other countries by far.  

Want to do something about the costs? Are you prepared to take on our cherished notions of free enterprise?

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