60 Minutes And A Piece Of The Healthcare Story
Yesterday, CBS 60 Minutes aired a story on healthcare. The focus was on Steven Brill new book “America’s Bitter Pill” which 60 Minutes segment titled “What Obamacare Doesn’t Do”. The 20 words or less summary is “the Affordable Care Act does almost nothing to contain costs and the taxpayer will end up paying enormous bills”. Hmmm.
The segment goes onto describe the shameful actions of Healthcare industry lobbyists and the even more gutless acceptance of lobbyist’s favors by greedy lawmakers. The consequence has been increased profits by “non-profit” hospitals and their associated drug companies and equipment makers. Brill reasons that in the end the government’s share of these costs will necessarily have to increase. Hence taxpayers will inherit the downside of ACA.
Brill’s expose is indeed shameful. It exposes an industry concerned first about profits and a legislative body whose only “right or wrong” is protecting their reelection odds. But both of those discoveries are not new.
Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, the US healthcare delivery system was the most expensive in the world costing two times more than about 2 dozen other modern industrial countries around the world, and these countries were delivering as good or better health outcomes than the US. In addition pre-ACA US healthcare’s costs were rising at two times the rate of inflation. Hmmm.
But pre-ACA deficiencies were not limited to costs, there were other shameful conditions contained within the US healthcare system. Insurance companies were allowed to cancel policies if someone became sick and consumed a certain amount of their coverage. Topping that was the Insurance Industry practice of denying (or charging prohibitive rates) coverage for Americans with “pre-existing conditions”. And lets not forget that drugs could be purchased in Canada that were made in the US, and shipped to Canada, at much lower prices than buying the same exact drugs directly in the US.
The Healthcare Industry is huge. Estimates are that it totals over $1 trillion dollars. But like drinking water, how can healthcare be denied any American or priced so high that it becomes unaffordable?
The 60 minutes story was fashioned to get attention, naturally. Its focus on the taxpayer, however, is disingenuous. The taxpayer had been picking up the bill for years. Healthcare insurance provided by employers is a non-taxable event which in effect lowers corporate taxes, thereby increasing the tax burden for the rest of taxpayers. Also, many people who could not afford or were denied coverage previously simply did not use doctors and admitting hospitals. Their inevitable healthcare costs were subsequently confused with Emergency Room usage (very high costs passed on to others), Medicaid, and in the end decreased life expectancies. Not much to be proud about.
On the other hand, the 60 Minutes story does a service by picking at the scab of our national healthcare disgrace. To this extent, CBS has render an important public awareness service.
There should be no argument that America’s healthcare delivery systems offers the best healthcare, anywhere in the world, that money can buy. The problem is that the quality of healthcare is not “cause and effect” related to what it costs. Two dozen other countries can demonstrate this point.
At some point, the media needs to transition from “what’s wrong with ACA” (there’s plenty) to “how ACA can be made better”. A good place to begin might be a point by point comparison of the healthcare industries in Germany, France, and Japan with that in the US.
But who needs data if you already know the answer?
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