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Price-gouging common in 'free market' medicine

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 12, 2013 at 05:32 PM

When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here's a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone.

The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality.

Medicare bringing down health care costs? "Ha, ha, ha," says the program's foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.

Unfortunately, the critics confuse spending levels with costs. Total Medicare spending is bound to rise as more older Americans live longer.

Sure, you can curb that increase through a voucher system limiting how much taxpayers will subsidize each beneficiary. But that's not the same as curbing the cost of treating a heart attack or cancer. Without Medicare's cost controls, the size of the bill for each course of care would be larger. Which is exactly what the medical-industrial complex wants.

Hospitals gripe that they lose money on Medicare patients, but that isn't true. As Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Brill: "Central Florida is overflowing with Medicare patients, and all those hospitals are expanding and advertising for Medicare patients. So you can't tell me they're losing money."

Many Republicans and some Democrats want to cut Medicare spending by raising the eligibility age. That makes minus-zero sense. If anything, the age should be lowered.

This is not to say that Medicare doesn't waste money. Under current rules, for example, it must cover treatments that work, even when another, cheaper means of care does just as good a job.

But the economics of medicine in the private sector bears little resemblance to a real free market. Hospitals routinely put on a magic show designed to bilk ordinary Americans, especially — and tragically — the underinsured

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