Health care system has grotesque billing practices

Len Harding
By Len Harding

I just finished reading the March 4 edition of Time Magazine describing the grotesque billing practices of our health care system. If you have not read it, I suggest you do so – it’s neither left nor right politically, it simply describes how we are grossly overcharged for health care services and medicines. It also elucidates Congress’ role in creating this system. It brings to mind Mark Twain’s famous quote: “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.” The health care denizens are the smart ones, and legislators are the imbeciles – as well as supinely complicit co-conspirators.

I’m not going to summarize the 22 page article, but I will mention that the Health Care lobby outspends the military industrial complex lobby by a 3-to-1 margin. Luckily for Congress, it’s not an either-or proposition. Congress can take money from both lobbies and not have to vote one over the other. To that point, our local congressman is not only a veteran, but also a doctor. He is perfectly suited to Congress.

Republicans want to trim $89 billion immediately. They could do this just by allowing Medicare to bargain with the drug companies in a free market. That would save more than $90 billion – a year. But since they installed this gimmick in 2004, it’s not likely they’ll eliminate it in 2013.

Truly an Affordable Care Act is sorely needed; it’s less clear how Obamacare can address the medical billing problem. Congress has shackled the government’s ability to negotiate prices, while ensuring that drug makers get their “fair” price.

The saddest thing about our health care system is that it bears down hardest on the poor and the catastrophically ill. Apparently only fools think that the Hippocratic ideal should take precedence over the bottom line. Do no harm is a bitterly hollow phrase when 60 percent of all personal bankruptcy in this country is a result of medical expenses; and that of that group of people, 62 percent of them have health insurance.

Everyone appreciates that doctors need their money, and that drug manufacturers need to be rewarded for their effort, but are we really required to oppress the afflicted, while coddling the comfortable? The real irony here is that doctors and the insurance companies are losing control of this system. They are complicit for sure, but mostly because they are responding to the bizarre incentives they work under. No, the real source of this system is Congress and the lobbies that control it.

This is a bi-partisan mess. Democrats refuse to allow tort reform while Republicans won’t budge on allowing free market price negotiations. So we have the worst of all possible alternatives – the only give in the system for cost is to lower benefits. One wonders: do we know what we are voting for when we elect these clowns? I doubt very much if “the electorate” had a system such as this in mind. We vote for a plan to help out and we got one that provided a featherbed for hospitals and medical manufacturers. When we vote for something to help us and wind up with a system that fleeces us, something is wrong. I’m just saying.

Len Harding is a retired consultant, technical writer and historian. He lives in Clermont County.