Monday, Dec. 10, 2012

When Money Sickens Medicine

By David Luhrssen
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  The message of the documentary Money and Medicine is that more is not better. The U.S. spends over than 2.5 times more per person on healthcare than Western European nations, yet our health statistics are closer to Slovenia than Germany. Roger Weisberg’s film uncovers many more disturbing stats. According to his research, 30 percent of medical spending in the U.S. ($800 billion a year) is wasted on unnecessary procedures.

 

And yet what’s more interesting than these deficit raising budget busters are the philosophical implications. An argument can be made for wholesale Medicare and Medicaid reform and for capping judgments in civil suits. Bureaucratic procedures as well as litigation are prompting physicians to order tests either because they are paid to do so or to cover themselves against lawsuits. Unnecessary testing isn’t necessarily benign, since everything from mammograms to CAT scans irradiate patients and increase cancer risks. The lack of a holistic vision in many sectors of the medical profession means more specialists—and more procedures, costing more money and posing more dangers to patients.

 

Care for the elderly, or anyone whose condition leaves them at or near vegetative, with slim chances for recovering mental function, is an especially controversial issue. Remember the flap over “death panels”? Many Americans embrace a theology of preserving life at any cost, despite the inevitable association of death with life, and medical science has often given false hope of staving off the end. The financial costs are enormous but the choices and personal and painful.

 

Money and Medicine is a thought-provoking examination of many problems facing the health care industry. It’s out on DVD.

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