Consumer Watch: Bitter pill of medical costs can be fixed

Consumer Watch: Bitter pill of medical costs can be fixed

May 25th, 2013 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

The past two columns have informed and emphasized a few of the major problems with some aspects of the health care system, thanks to Steven Brill in Time magazine. According to Brill, while it may not be easy, the "Bitter Pill" dilemma can be fixed. In a nutshell:

1. Tighten antitrust laws related to hospitals. This keeps them from being so dominant and helps insurance companies to better negotiate prices.

2. Tax hospital profits at 75 percent and place a tax surcharge on all nondoctor hospital salaries that exceed $750,000 to save over a minimum of $80 billion a year. (The Time article speaks extensively on these high-paying salaries, who makes them, and why -- very interesting reading.)

3. Get rid of the chargemaster. Re-write these fees to reflect thoroughly transparent and real costs. Brill's description hits this nail on the head as "the source of the poison coursing through the health care ecosystem." Not only would this benefit those with insurance, it could mean salvation for the millions without insurance.

4. Amend patent laws or set price limits on so-called wonder drugs. This would ensure pharmaceutical companies would be limited in their monopolies and save billions of dollars a year.

5. Tighten costs on CTs and MRIs. Not only should Medicare payments be tightened, but also cap payments from insurance companies. Additionally, cap profits on lab tests performed in-house by doctors or hospitals.

6. Institute tort reform. We need medical-malpractice reform and also need protection for those physicians who order tests against their better judgment because their hospital bosses tell them to jump. Billions of dollars yearly would be saved, along with also cutting costs to consumers when malpractice insurance costs are also cut.

So again, it's up to us, the American consumer, the American voter. We must harangue and harass, email, write letters, make calls, sign petitions, do whatever we can to help overhaul the health care system. It's for sure too many members of Congress don't want to change the status quo, whether because of the ole' you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours syndrome or, maybe, because of a more nefarious reason. And, finally, if our representatives don't care enough about those of us who put them in office with all their perks (including the best insurance available to them for life), then vote 'em out.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer watch@timesfree press.com.