Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Health Care Hypocrisy

Ron Beasley wrote a post at Newshoggers last Friday entitled American Medical Consumerism, which was short and very much to a point. It will take you but a moment to read it, but he begins (emphasis mine),

Here in my State of Oregon it was announced this week that health insurance premiums will be going up 16 percent in 2010. Some employers will increase the amount of the employees share while some small and medium sized businesses will be priced out and have to drop coverage. The reason for the increase is the runaway cost of health care.

Health care reformists are complaining about the cost of health insurance, and the large part of the focus of that “reform” is reducing insurance premiums; not by influencing the cost or use of medical care itself, which insurance pays for, but by legislating the actions of insurance companies. Yet insurance companies in Oregon are raising premiums because of “the runaway cost of health care.” Ron finishes by saying that, “The changes that need to be made will be labeled rationing and that label will stick until a majority have no health care at all.”

Last week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new suggested guidelines for breast cancer screening, based on the cost effectiveness and the number of lives that are statistically saved by that process. The standards they suggested are essentially the standards used by the rest of the world and were provided as guidelines for women who are not known to be at elevated risk.

The public not only rejected that guideline, they were outraged by it. Consensus appeared to be that concern over cost effectiveness was misplaced, and that if any lives at all were saved then it was callous and outrageous to be concerned with saving money.

That may very well be a completely valid position, and I would not argue with such a consensus, except that this “health care reform” that we are insisting that Congress must pass is in large part about reducing the cost of health care insurance. The first time that any concrete method of actually reducing cost is suggested, it is rejected so forcefully that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is forced to go on television and tell the public to ignore the suggested guideline.

We want insurance companies to pay for 1,357 mammograms that will save one life, but we don’t want to cover the cost of those 1,357 mammograms in our health insurance premiums. Is one single life worth the cost of 1,357 mammograms? I’m perfectly willing to accept a consensus that it is; but if we conclude that then we must be willing to cover that cost in our insurance premiums. Conversely, if we are not willing to pay those insurance premiums, as is suggested by our demand for “health care reform” and lower health insurance rates, then it is hypocritical to say that we place any value on that one life.

Somebody has to pay for those 1,357 mammograms, and it isn’t going to be that one person whose life was saved. We, as a society, are going to have to bear that cost. We say that we are willing to do so, but when we get the bill we raise all sorts of hell about the cost, and we blame the insurance company. That cost is because of the choices that we have made. The insurance companies did not arbitrarily decide to pay the cost of those 1,357 mammograms, they paid it because we demanded that they do so.

Either we value that one life, or we value money. If the former, we have to decide whether or not we have sufficient resources to in all cases save that one life. Decision time.

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