Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dissecting the High Cost of Healthcare

When I hear politicians talking about the "healthcare crisis," I cringe. For all the usual reasons, plus this.

They're asking (and answering) the wrong question. They're all asking "How do we pay for healthcare in America?"

But that's not the question. It's just a symptom of the problem. (Hmmm.) The real problem is this...

"Why is healthcare so expensive?"

Let me itemize what I think makes it so expensive.

  1. Doctors turn to expensive pharmaceutical drugs as a first line of defense for each patient, instead of prescribing cheaper, safer holistic alternatives.

  2. We overuse healthcare when things are covered by health insurance.

  3. The system pushes patients toward symptom relief, not healing the underlying causes. The top drugs of 2005 (Lipitor/cholesterol, Zocor/cholesterol, Nexium/heartburn, prevacid/heartburn, Advair Diskus/asthma) only treat symptoms, they do not do anything about the underlying causes.

  4. Diagnosis is extremely expensive. Doctors routinely prescribe that patients submit to MRIs, CAT or PET scans, which use incredibly expensive equipment to determine the patient's health. The cost of these machines has to come from somewhere.

  5. Modern medicine has taken a paternalistic view of medicine. For instance, when a patient has success with some type of holistic treatment, their doctor is likely to "poo poo" the treatment, saying that the patient imagined it or that it couldn't possibly be the reason for better health. The only "real" health result comes from a controlled study conducted by scientists. When a patient is no longer the expert on their own health, the patient feels they can't make a move without advice from the doctor - at $150 per 7 minutes.

  6. Malpractice insurance rates have gone up dramatically in the past twenty years. Doctors, especially ob/gyns, pay tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars PER YEAR to stay insured against malpractice. Lawyers make livings from suing doctors for even the slightest mistakes. This causes medical licensure boards to hold doctors to strict "by the book" procedures for every type of disease, ignoring the patient's true needs and the doctor's instincts.

I hope this explains why Western medicine is so expensive. It is NOT because of excess greed on the part of the doctors, nor the insurance companies, nor the hospitals. It results from these, largely systemic, factors.

What can you do about it?

First, use holistic healthcare as your first line of defense. It's almost always cheaper and safer.

Second, try not to overuse the Western medical system. Consider the expense to yourself and to your insurance company.

Third, question your doctor's advice. If the doctor suggests an expensive diagnostic technique or an expensive drug, ask if there is some other choice. Start a discussion. You're paying him to talk to you!

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