Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Expensive Health Care

By Bruce Allen, Del Haven

To the Editor:

The U.S. is a world leader in some things, but one that isn’t to be proud of is health care spending. In 2022 our total spending was $4.4 trillion, close to 20% of total Gross Domestic Product. According to the Peterson/KKK study, our per capita spending was $13,000, vastly higher than the next highest, Germany at $7,400. And the result of all that money being spent? We rank 59th in the list of national longevity, far, far behind the “socialist” European countries and Canada with 12% of GDP on health care.

And where is all the unnecessary spending? Everywhere. Our system reeks of inefficiency from unnecessary testing, too overly expensive equipment, to completely inefficient health insurance, to unnecessary education, to fixed drug prices, and the list goes on. As an ex-editor of The New England Journal of Medicine put it, “If we had set out to design the worst health care system in the world, we couldn’t have possibly designed one as bad as the one we have.”

As an 80-year-old, I have seen massive changes in the health care industry (emphasis on “industry”). Let me share a few experiences of mine. As a senior, I have been to a number of general practitioners. All but one have insisted on six-month checkups despite my pointing out to them that Canada does eight-month checkups with better health outcomes and 25% savings for Medicare. All continued to insist on them, just as they insisted on each visit that I get blood work done, despite every one of the tests coming back with exactly the same results. And the cost? $500 for routine senior visits. Remember if Medicare or insurance pays, it still comes out of someone’s pocket.

I took my wife to our family general practitioner in October 2022. She was dying and I was asking for something to help her sleep. He took one look at her from across the room and ordered – not requested, ordered – me to take her to the emergency room at Cape Regional for $10,000 worth of tests and didn’t listen to a word I said. Needless to say, the results were negative. She died two months later.

I had a hip replacement 11 years ago and was sent to a rehabilitation center a couple days later. There, the doctor assigned to me, within an hour or two, asked me to do a few leg movements, which I did. Sort of bemused he looked at me for a second and asked, “Why did they send you here?”

Another doctor came and spent two minutes showing me how to get into a wheelchair from bed and charged Medicare $200 for that service, and they actually paid him $75! I flew through the exercises but they weren’t about to let me go until my wife, who had spent 11 years as the administrator to the medical and dental staff of a hospital, spoke to them ‘firmly.’ They were going to keep me another two days for no health reason.

And which party is trying to do something about this mess? The short answer is neither is doing much, but the Democrats are doing somewhat more, even in the face of 40 years of Republican resistance. Not nearly enough, though. The U.S. health care industry is simply too big for average politicians to face their money and power. We need politicians of both parties to stand up and say, “Enough is enough” and propose actual programs to accompany those words.

BRUCE ALLEN

Del Haven

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