FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Medical Price Gouging

An epidemic of sky-rocketing medical costs has afflicted our country and grown to obscene proportions. Medical bills are bloated with waste, redundancy, profiteering, fraud and outrageous over-billing. Much is wrong with the process of pricing and providing health care.

The latest in this medical cost saga comes from new data released last week by National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest nurse’s organization. In a news release, NNU revealed that fourteen hospitals in the United States are charging more than ten times their costs for treatment. Specifically, for every $100 one of these hospitals spends, the charge on the corresponding bill is nearly $1,200.

NNU’s key findings note that the top 100 most expensive U.S. hospitals have “a charge to cost ratio of 765 percent and higher — more than double the national average of 331 percent.” They found that despite the enactment of “Obamacare” — the Affordable Care Act — overall hospital charges experienced their largest increase in 16 years. For-profit hospitals continue to be the worst offenders with average charges of 503 percent of their costs compared to publically-run hospitals (“…including federal, state, county, city, or district operated hospitals, with public budgets and boards that meet in public…”) which show more restraint in pricing. The average charge ratios for these hospitals are 235 percent of their costs.

According to NNU’s data, the top 10 Most Expensive Hospitals in the U.S. listed according to the huge percentage of their charges relative to their costs are:

1. Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, Secaucus, NJ – 1192%
2. Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center, Painsville, KY – 1186%
3. Orange Park Medical Center, Orange Park, FL – 1139%
4. North Okaloosa Medical Center, Crestview, FL – 1137%
5. Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Gadsden, AL – 1128%
6. Bayonne Medical Center, Bayonne, NJ – 1084%
7. Brooksville Regional Hospital, Brooksville, FL – 1083%
8. Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, Davenport, FL – 1058%
9. Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia, PA – 1058%
10. Oak Hill Hospital, Spring Hill, FL – 1052%

The needless complications of the vast medical marketplace have provided far too many opportunities for profiteering. Numerous examples of hospital visit bills feature enormous overcharges on simple supplies such as over-the-counter painkillers, gauze, bandages and even the markers used to prep patients for surgery. That’s not to mention the cost of more advanced procedures and the use of advanced medical equipment which are billed at several times their actual cost. These charges have resulted in many hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges.

When pressed for answers, many hospital representatives are quick to defer to factors out of their control. It’s the cost of providing care they might say, or perhaps infer that other vague aspects of running the business of medical treatment add up and are factored into these massive charges. Cost allocations mix treatment costs with research budgets, cash reserves, and just plain accounting gimmicks. These excuses shouldn’t fly in the United States.

Few in the medical industry will acknowledge the troubling trend. One thing is undeniably certain however — the medical marketplace is not suffering for profits. Health-care in the United States is a nearly 3 trillion dollar a year industry replete with excessive profits for many hospitals, medical supply companies, pharmaceutical companies, labs and health insurance vendors.

Americans spend more on health care than anywhere else in the world. One would hope and wish, at the least, that this enormous expenditure would provide a quality of healthcare above and beyond that found in the rest of the western world. The reality is that the results on average are no better than in France, Germany, Canada and elsewhere, which manage to provide their quality treatment without all the overcharges.

Much like our similarly wasteful, bloated military budget, the U.S. spends more on health care than the next ten countries combined — most of which cover almost all of their citizens.The United States spends $8,233 per person, per year according to a 2012 figure from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The average expenditure of the thirty three other developed nations OECD tracked is just $3,268 per person.

It gets worse. Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, the leading expert on health care billing fraud and abuse, conservatively estimates that 10 percent of all health care expenditure in the United States is lost to computerized billing fraud. That’s $270 billion dollars a year!

And unlike other commercial markets, where the advance of technology routinely makes costs lower, the reverse trend is in effect when providing medical care — the prices just keep soaring higher and higher. The flawed, messy Obamacare system will do little to help this worsening profit-grab crisis, which is often downright criminal in the way it exploits tragedy-stricken people and saddles them with mountains of debt.

Steven Brill’s TIME magazine cover story from February 2013 titled “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” gives an in-depth and highly-researched rundown of the severity of the medical cost problem and provides some of the worst, most astonishing examples of profiteering off of the plight of the sick or injured.

Here’s a fact that puts the full scope of this troubling trend into perspective — Brill writes: “The health-care industrial complex spends more than three times what the military industrial complex spends in Washington”. Specifically, the medical industry has spent $5.36 billion on lobbying in Washington D.C. since 1998. Compare that expenditure to the $1.53 billion spent lobbying by the also-bloated defense and aerospace sector.

One line summarizes the breadth of Brill’s enormous piece: “If you are confused by the notion that those least able to pay are the ones singled out to pay the highest rates, welcome to the American medical marketplace.”

Americans who can’t pay and therefore delay diagnosis and treatment are casualties. About 45,000 Americans die every year because they cannot afford health insurance according to a peer-reviewed report by Harvard Medical School researchers. No one dies in Canada, Germany, France or Britain because they do not have health insurance. They are all insured from the time they are born.

Obamacare, which has already confused and infuriated many Americans — and even some experts — with its complexity made up of thousands of pages of legislation and regulations is clearly not the answer to the problem. Long before the internet, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months using index cardsCanada’s single-payer system was enacted with only a thirteen page bill — and it covers everyone for less than half of the cost per capita compared to the U.S.’s system. (Check out 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better Than Obamacare)

Enacting a single payer, full Medicare-for-all system is the only chance the United States has of unwinding itself from the spider web of waste, harm, and bloat that currently comprise its highly flawed health insurance and health care systems. It’s time to cut out the corporate profiteers and purveyors of waste and fraud and introduce a system that works for everybody.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail