Pointing the Finger

Edition: September 2002 - Vol 10 Number 09
Article#: 1316
Author: Mark Thill

Party A blames Party B for sucking cost out of the system. Party B blames Party C for being too dictatorial. Party C blames Party D, and maybe Party A and B, too, for pushing their own agenda without regard for the greater good – patient care.

No, no. We’re not talking about supply chain squabbles. Not this time. Turns out our end of the business doesn’t have a monopoly on pointless, unproductive dickering. That point was brought home in a recent article by The New York Times (“Decade After Health Care Crisis, Soaring Costs Bring New Strains,” Aug. 11.)

Only several years after free-marketers celebrated the private sector’s victory over rising health care costs, we’re back in the ozone again. Consider:

• Spending on healthcare rose faster in 2000 than at any time since 1993. Spending on prescription drugs and hospital stays grew particularly fast.

• Health insurance premiums rose an average of 11 percent last year, and are expected to rise another 13 percent this year, after several years of very modest growth.

• The amounts that employees pay for deductibles in typical health plans rose by more than 30 percent between 2001 and 2002, after little or no growth in recent years.

• State legislatures are coping with rising costs and declining tax revenues by cutting certain health benefits, such as dental coverage for adults, capping enrollments and requiring poor people to pay more for their care.

So, who’s to blame? Ah, that’s where the fun begins. Here are some of the usual suspects:

• Rising technology costs. Have you ever heard the term “technology costs” described as anything but “rising”?

• The drug company thieves. When’s the last time you felt warm and fuzzy about drug company executives. They charge too much, they market too much, they infiltrate our minds while we’re sleeping. At least that’s how the argument goes.

• HMOs. The argument goes that their heavy-handedness, greed and/or incompetence screwed up our last, best chance for health care cost reduction.

• Doctors. The prima donnas can’t stand being told to think twice before ordering a diagnostic test or prescribing a pill.

• The aging population. This one’s no fun at all. What are you going to do – shoot your grandparents?

• Rich people. They read too much, they fret too much, and they can’t resist demanding the latest treatment.

• Pampered consumers. How dare you tell an American that he or she doesn’t need that treatment they read about in Oprah?

The problem is, after we’ve exhausted ourselves trying to find the real villain (Too bad we don’t have Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore!), we’ve still got to figure out how to take care of sick people in this country. Blaming somebody else may be cathartic, but it doesn’t accomplish a blasted thing.

Maybe you’ve got an enormous nest egg hidden away for your own health care, in which case you can thumb your nose at the rest of us and take care of Number 1. But if that’s not the case, we have little alternative but to put our blaming fingers down and open our ears and eyes to the bigger picture.