Opinion

Former Hospital Chief: Cure For Healthcare Sticker Shock Unites Republicans And Democrats

The U.S. is currently ranked 31st in the world for life expectancy – behind Chile and Costa Rica. We achieved this sad result while spending 50% more per person on healthcare than the second most expensive nation on earth (France).

Our dead-end healthcare system was not created by accident. The health industry spends more on lobbying than the defense, aerospace, and the oil and gas industries combined.

The most basic human aspiration, to live a long and healthy life, has fallen victim to crony capitalism and political bickering.

Both political parties are attacking the problem from the wrong end – health insurance. Premiums are a direct function of the amounts paid for hospitals, labs, physicians and drugs. The only way to materially reduce insurance premiums and healthcare as a percentage of GDP is to address these underlying healthcare costs.

Ask the price of any healthcare service and you will always receive the same answer: “What insurance do you have?” Medical bills are determined by how much can be extracted from each patient on a case by case basis. Because billing rates are not set, the industry is able to prey on patients at their most vulnerable. If you are out of network or uninsured, you pay the highest rates. It is a predatory system.

A simple blood test for cholesterol can range from $10 to $400 or more at the same lab. Hospitalization for chest pain can result in a bill from the same hospital for the same services ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 or more.

In 2009, President Obama presented his namesake plan to a joint session of Congress and identified the amount spent on underlying health costs as the reason for skyrocketing insurance premiums, stating: “We spend one and a half times more per person on health care than any other country. . . This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages.”

Obamacare was stillborn because it allowed the predatory pricing system to continue. This “system” shields hospitals, physicians and labs from price competition. It is not a coincidence that the only product or service permitted to be sold in the U.S.A. without legitimate pricing, is the one that has imposed tremendous financial hardship, including causing the majority of personal bankruptcies.

This author recently delivered a Petition to End Predatory Healthcare Pricing to Trump Tower with over 100,000 signatures. Congress need only mandate that all hospitals, physicians and labs publish legitimate prices – like all other businesses. They can continue to set their own rates, but billing a different amount to each patient for the exact same service must be prohibited.

The Medicare Advisory Commission noted that hospitals “have excess inpatient capacity in most markets.” Hospital occupancy rates average approximately 60%. Technological advances have dramatically shortened inpatient stays. If legitimate pricing existed excess capacity would produce plunging prices – like it does in every free market. Efficient hospitals would thrive and inefficient hospitals would close their doors or be acquired by lower cost operators.

Legitimate prices mean networks would be obsolete, along with the administrative burdens, tremendous costs, and limitations on patient choice they impose. Every citizen would be empowered to search any medical procedure online and see pricing for all providers within X miles. It should be as easy and familiar as checking the price of any other goods or services.

In an emergency, when shopping isn’t possible, legitimate pricing means you will be billed a competitive, market based price. If your vehicle runs out of gas and you walk to the nearest service station they can’t gouge you for $350 a gallon because prices are free-market based and competitive. But in our present predatory health system, especially if you are uninsured or out of network, the hospital bill may be as extreme as a $350 gallon of gas – think $20 for an aspirin.

The individuals who signed the Petition to End Predatory Healthcare Pricing are a cross section of the Nation – Trump, Clinton, Obamacare, free market and single payer devotees alike – from every State in the union. They are suffering, angry and feel helpless; disappointed by decades of political promises that failed to loosen a tightening medical bill noose.

No congressperson can oppose legitimate pricing or defend our predatory system. The desire for legitimate healthcare pricing is the one – perhaps only – unifying American issue.

A sample of the tens of thousands of public comments by Petition signers follows:

Cary Loyd, Round Rock, TX

Reason for signing: The medical industry is a protected cartel.

Paul Clark, Oklahoma City, OK

Reason for signing: Capitalism is not the problem, it’s the answer!

Jeff Parker, St. Charles, IL

Reason for Signing: This should be illegal and prosecutable for those who engage in these behaviors.

Beth Bousquet, Kansas City, MO

Reason for signing: As an RN for over 35 years I have seen what predatory pricing has done to our health care system. We have to demand this as consumers of a needed commodity.

Mark Burkey, Greensboro, NC

Reason for Signing: As an economics professor, I teach that rational decisions can only be made with clear pricing. It is sad that when we seek healthcare the patient does not know what they are buying, or for how much.

Hans Heinsen, Naples, FL

Reason for Signing: This makes so much sense it is disturbing it has never been debated nationally.

Steven Evans, Huntsville, AL

Reason for Signing: This is the first time I’ve seen this problem addressed, though I’ve been aware of it a long time. It’s time to end this atrocity!

Gayle Greene, El Cerrito, CA

Reason for signing: Health care in this country is out of control, cruel, rapacious, and unjust.

Dorenda Bainbridge, Queens, NY

Reason for signing: This is the only way to truly reform the Healthcare system.

Sallie Weaver, Shawnee, KS

Reason for signing: This is an unfair practice and needs to be stopped.

Nancy Hales, Camden, SC

Reason for signing: My husband and I are retired over 60 but not 65 and we do not qualify for any subsidy. Only one provider is available and our policy choices were $22,000 – $29,000 a year.