In Fixing American Healthcare, Dr. Rich explains that the major cause of rising costs in healthcare is an aging population that requires more resources. Though some have proposed that fraud and waste/inefficiencies are the primary sources of costs spiraling out of control, the truth is that they likely play a minor role compared to the tremendous costs of providing cutting edge treatments to an older and sicker US population. Dr. Rich argues that we don’t hear that much about the escalating cost of caring for older Americans because it makes us squeamish, so we instead focus on curbing costs due to fraud and waste. However, when fraud and waste are not the primary cause of increasing costs, enhanced attempts to quash them do not actually move the savings needle. Since certain groups are tasked with reducing escalating costs due to fraud (in particular), and their work does not result in savings, they must strive harder to find and punish those accused of fraud, perhaps even seeing fraud where it doesn’t exist.
Dr. Rich argues that true fraud is fairly rare, and that the majority of “fraud” cases involve people not complying with rules they had no knowledge of (in many cases even after asking about the rules from the people who made them). Other cases of “fraud” involve retroactive application of rules and then fining hospitals for not being in compliance before the rules were made. His assessment of the PATH audit debacle is quite interesting.
Now, obviously we want to decrease fraud and waste as much as possible – but in the midst of our desperate attempts to curb healthcare spending, we’ll need to have some honest and frank discussions about the elephant in the room: America is sicker than ever before, and we have developed expensive ways to cure/treat those sicknesses – ways that we can’t afford to offer everyone.
What should we do? Dr. Rich suggests that we come together as a nation and decide on some rationing rules. He argues that we’re already rationing our healthcare dollars in covert ways – let’s bring it out into the open so that it’s fair to everyone. Now, I doubt that this will sit well with Americans – but our current “system” is so dysfunctional that maybe the time for a rationing discussion has come?
In this climate of unlimited treatments and limited resources, the best option is to stay healthy as long as possible. That’s why I believe in preventive medicine, healthy lifestyle changes, and doing all that we can to avoid getting sick. In many cases (but certainly not all) eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, controlling our weight, getting our vaccines, and sleeping well each night can go a long way to keeping us out of the hospital. It’s not easy to get Americans to take care of themselves in this way, but I’d rather spend my efforts trying to get us fit than to have to debate rationing rules. In the end, however, we may need to do both. What do you think?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.