Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Times has an eye-opening...

...long piece today, "As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500," about one of the main reasons American health care is so much more expensive than in other developed countries. (Hint: they're profit centers.) And before you tell me how much better the quality is in the United States, there's this (all emphasis mine):

And payouts in the Pacific region for simple emergency room treatments — stitches, a sprained ankle and an upper respiratory infection — were by far the highest in the country, about 50 percent higher than in the Northeast, according to an analysis performed for The Times by the health care consulting firm Truven Health Analytics.

But here's the money quote:

California Pacific Medical Center’s 400-page chargemaster for this year contains some eye-popping figures: from $32,901 for an X-ray study of the heart’s arteries to $25,646.88 for gall bladder removal (doctor’s fees not included) to $5,510 for a simple vaginal delivery (not including $731 for each hour of labor, or $137 for each bag of IV fluid). Even basic supplies or services carry huge markups: $20 for a codeine pill (50 cents at Rite-Aid or Walgreens), $543 for a breast-pump kit ($25 online), $4,495 for a CT scan of the abdomen (about $400 at an outpatient facility nearby). Plenty of other hospitals set similar prices. 

“Chargemaster prices are basically arbitrary, not connected to underlying costs or market prices,” said Glenn Melnick, a professor of health economics at the University of Southern California. Hospitals “can set them at any level they want. There are no market constraints.”  

Sutter Health, California Pacific Medical Center’s parent company, employs 28 officials who make more than $1 million a year, and four of them are among the top-paid hospital executives in the state. Sutter’s chief executive officer makes more than $5 million.

And that illustrates why there's so much resistance to health care reform in this country. It's not all that claptrap about "socialism!" you hear on Fox. It's that some of the major players in the industry -- insurance companies, medical device manufacturers, drug companies and hospitals -- have been gouging the American public for decades. That doesn't happen in other developed countries where the government has bargaining power.

And that gravy train is about to come to end.

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