Letter to the editor

Health care has become slave to profits

December 20, 2012 

Included with the Dec. 15 copy of The Sun News was a slick full color “2013-2014 Medical Staff Directory” for the Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. It is 46 pages long. All purchasers of the print edition received one of these. That means thousands of copies will soon be in the trash where they belong.

Over the past several years, all of us have received similar advertising material from health care providers in this area. Nothing wrong with advertising. It’s important to the success of any business. That’s what health care in this country has become: a vast, highly profitable business.

My guess is that this piece of advertising from the Grand Strand Regional Medical Center cost somewhere in the area of $4 to $5 per copy to print and distribute. Clearly, this kind of advertising is built into the cost structures of all such health care providers and, clearly, this contributes to the increasingly enormous cost of health care in this country.

President Obama has promised that, over the next several years, the Affordable Healthcare Act will begin to address the issue of excessive costs, waste and fraud. This can’t happen too soon. Back in the 1950s and 1960s when my father was practicing medicine, advertising by hospitals and doctors was unheard of and actively discouraged by the American Medial Association and hospital associations. But advertising is only one component of excessive medical costs. There are many others.

I recently received a “Medicare Summary Notice” for an outpatient CT scan I had and I’m still in a state of shock over the charges: $7,203 – and many more bills are on the way. I did a Google search on CT scan costs and was astounded to find that bills of this size are not unusual. It was also clear that such bills, and hospital bills in general, are often many times more than what is considered “reasonable and necessary” by experts in the medical community and result from billing practices that are commonly arbitrary and/or intentionally inflated.

I found numerous comments from outraged patients complaining about excessive charges. One article analyzing CT scan costs indicated to me that mine should have cost no more than about $800. Whether or not Medicare ultimately pays for my bills, I intend to contest them and seek reimbursement for or withdrawal of any improper charges. The issue is so complex that I don’t feel very confident of success but the temptation to sit back and do nothing isn’t an option for me. I look upon it as a duty.

The writer lives in Conway.

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