A 20 year-old man came down with appendicitis in October of this year. He posted the bill on Reddit and it has gone viral. The US Health Care system is a topic of much debate, not only in the US but around the world. A lot of countries get ‘free’ health care, so needless to say, this has stirred up a lot of conversation.
As someone who is chronically ill and disabled, I’ve seen this situation more than once. Luckily I have Medicare, but that doesn’t mean my doctors won’t over charge. My mother suffered a heart attack back in 2007, and add to that unfortunate event was the fact that she was without insurance because her previous one had lapsed and we were desperately looking for one until she too could go on Medicare. Suffice it to say, even with a portion of the bill forgiven, it wasn’t enough and my parents were financially wiped out. My father, now 88, lost nearly 7 decades of savings in one fell swoop.
We like to rag on the insurance companies, and don’t get me wrong, they are in my eyes co-conspirators in the draining of this nation’s wealth. But we also have to look at the medical establishment. Yes, doctors and medical practices do face a lot of costs, especially malpractice insurance and other similar liabilities. But much, from what I’ve been told even by them, of the costs is peer-inflated. Basically, because X raised their prices, so must Y and thus one sees a chain reaction.
Besides doctors, you have hospitals and medical suppliers also charging crazy amounts. I get it, if you make a medical widget or a pill, you need to see a return on investment. But having owned stock in some medical supplier companies, and really you all should just download those freely available annual and quarterly reports these folks put out, they freely admit charging 10-to-100X the cost of something. Many pharma companies flagship products are based on research the public has already invested in.
The Cons and Libertarians like to talk about how we need a free market in medicine. That if the government “got out of the way,” we would see lower prices through competition. This is a major fallacy for one simple reason: the medical establishment does not believe in competition. The AMA alone controls the supply of doctors in the United States, and they are akin to an old medieval guild. In order to have a market one needs to have price transparency. You can easily find out the price on a grocery shelf for all products, and we can price compare many goods against other stores. There is no such price transparency in medicine. Hospitals only post some pricing and more often than not that information is hard to get. And of course, one cannot price shop while having a heart attack.
Maybe we do need a collapse of the medical system to rebuild it. We obviously do not have any political means of enforcing any real competition among medical providers. And we sure as heck do not have any political means of establishing something like the UK’s National Health Service, let alone Single-Payer.