Clusterfuck

We don’t like to get political here at Meanderings, but we do like to get smarter. Thankfully this piece on health care (note: not “health insurance”) in The Atlantic does the latter while avoiding the former:

Everyone I know has at least one personal story about how screwed up our health-care system is; before spending (another) $1trillion or so on reform, we need a much clearer understanding of the causes of the problems we all experience.

Oooo, I’ve got a story! It involves 10-minutes with a podiatrist, a bulbous middle toe with no solution, and a $300 bill. But that’s neither here nor there. What is both here (involving my toe) and there (involving America) is this, one of many nuggets in this piece worth having when you’re thinking about health care (again, not “health insurance”):

Try discussing prices with hospitals and other providers. Eight years ago, my wife needed an MRI, but we did not have health insurance. I called up several area hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices—all within about a one-mile radius—to find the best price. I was surprised to discover that prices quoted, for an identical service, varied widely, and that the lowest price was $1,200. But what was truly astonishing was that several providers refused to quote any price. Only if I came in and actually ordered the MRI could we discuss price…

Keeping prices opaque is one way medical institutions seek to avoid competition and thereby keep prices up. And they get away with it in part because so few consumers pay directly for their own care—insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid are basically the whole game. But without transparency on prices—and the related data on measurable outcomes—efforts to give the consumer more control over health care have failed, and always will.

The article – “How American Health Care Killed My Father” – couldn’t have a more hyperbolic title. But it also couldn’t be a more informative and disturbing read.

Update: If you’re truly that sadistic and want the politics, I recommend Matt Taibbi. As long as you know his biases (he’s, uh, liberal), there’s not a more straight-forward source out there. And certainly not a more entertaining one. I mean, he calls someone a gorgon:

Many of the health care advisers in Obama’s inner circle, meanwhile, are industry hacks — people like Nancy-Ann DeParle, the president’s health care czar, who has served on the boards of for-profit companies like Medco Health Solutions and Triad Hospitals. DeParle is so unthreatening to the status quo that Karen Ignagni, the insurance industry’s leading lobbyist-gorgon, praised her “extensive experience” and “strong track record.”

Behind closed doors, Obama also moved to cut a deal with the drug industry. “It’s a dirty deal,” says Russell Mokhiber, one of the protesters whom Baucus had arrested. “The administration told them, ‘Single-payer is off the table. In exchange, we want you on board.'” In August, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America announced that the industry would contribute an estimated $150 million to campaign for Obamacare.

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One response to “Clusterfuck

  1. I hate to drop a dirty politics grenade into the comments, but here we go anyway. The Taibbi piece is a terribly depressing read. (Not depressing: it’s no longer behind the online curtain. I actually read this one in hard copy. What is this, 1995?) But it just goes to show the pernicious influence that corporate interests have on governance. (The $150 million Pharma deal is beyond unconscionable.)

    But if you think that’s bad, wait until we have corporate sponsored candidates http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/only-comic-can-inquire-into-such.html .

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