Sunday, November 17, 2013

Geezers not to blame for high medical costs

"Stop blaming us!"

Good news, old folks! Now you can feel less guilty about being a burden on society. (You were feeling guilty, right?) Don your reading glasses and check this out:

[A] new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association strongly undercuts the assertion that an aging population is primarily to blame for soaring health care costs. Instead, the study concludes, the overwhelming share of increased health expenditures can be traced to the higher prices that hospitals, medical professionals and drug companies charge to treat a wide swath of illnesses, from cancer to depression.

[...]  All told, costs incurred from treating patients who suffer from chronic illnesses account for 84 percent of all health expenditures in the U.S.

"The attention given to rising Medicare costs is warranted, but chronic disease at all ages, not just those over 65, account for the lion's share of higher costs," said Hamilton Moses, a physician and management consultant who co-authored the report, in an interview.

Despite those high costs, we still have the finest health care system in the world, with the best delivery, right? It's because of all our innovative drugs and newfangled medical technology that let us live longer, right?  Wrong and wrong again:

Since 1980, costs have tripled, in real terms. Yet price increases have not translated into better care, the study found. By the starkest possible measure of health care success -- mortality rate -- the U.S. is slipping behind its peer countries.

Americans in almost every corner of the country die earlier, on average, than residents of other developed countries, with the difference most pronounced in the South, the study found.

And, very importantly, we must note that, "The U.S. also has relatively few doctors, at least as compared to other wealthy nations, ranking 19th out of 25 peer countries in terms of primary care physicians as a percentage of the population."

According to the OECD, in 2011, "the United States had 2.5 practising physicians per 1000 population, below the OECD average of 3.2."

We can thank the AMA, the authors of the abovementioned study, for that. As many have noted, it acts like a cartel to limit the number of medical schools (thus making fewer doctors) and hospitals, thereby keeping medical schools and hospitals more expensive and physicians' salaries higher. In 1962, uber-conservative economist Milton Friedman called the AMA “the strongest trade union in the United States." Also, the AMA's "RUC" committee strongly influences the prices for Medicare

By Ben Hallman
November 12, 2013 | Huffington Post

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