Soap Box:  The Cost of Healthcare and Insurance - Who's to blame?

January 24, 2005

When it comes to the high cost of healthcare, health insurance, and doctor's malpractice insurance, there's a lot of finger pointing going on. Even President Bush, in the Republican "get out the hate vote" campaign, pointed a few fingers. While there is some controversy over who to assign the blame to, almost everyone agrees on who the victims are. They are the lower and middle class citizens of this nation. They are the ones that have to mortgage their houses to pay their medical bills. They are the ones who can't afford health insurance. So let's figure out who's causing this mess.

Politicians are generally the blame for everything, so we won't consider them in this article. The main players seem to be the insurance companies, the lawyers, and the doctors. Of course, the indirect players would be those that hire the lawyers, or the juries that side with the lawyers, but for the sake of argument, we'll mainly consider the three I have listed.

Let's first consider the insurance companies, both the ones that provide health insurance and those that provide malpractice insurance for doctors. Insurance companies are in business to make money. They aren't interested in whether or not you're treated fairly or you have to face hardships to pay your bills, all they want is your money. The companies complain that they have to charge higher rates because the cost of healthcare is so high. Well, if you ever look at your doctor or hospital bill, you can't really argue with that. The cost of healthcare is outrageous. They say that because of high jury awards, the malpractice insurance also has to be higher. That's true too. So from the insurance company perspective, they do seem to be passing along the higher cost of doing business.

Now let's consider the lawyers. Lawyers are also driven by money. But for them to get their money, they have to have a willing client and a willing jury. Some say that if you put a cap on jury awards, this will solve the problem. Well that just isn't true, plus it will hurt those that really have been hurt by negligence. Jury awards is actually a small portion of the insurance claim. Malpractice insurance may go down a little bit, but it won't affect the big problem of expensive healthcare. And you really can't affect the way a jury pool votes. How can we legislate stupidity? Unfortunately, the social structure in this country means that we get idiots on the jury. We get people that believe if you douse yourself with gasoline and then strike a match, the gas company or the company that made the match is the one at fault. And the idiots that bring these lawsuits will always find a lawyer willing to represent them. So the way to combat this is to have laws against frivolous lawsuits. There should be fines or other punishments against the people that bring these suits, the lawyers that represent them, and the judges that don't throw them out. We could have some kind of advisory panel that uses plain old common sense to evaluate a case. We already have this subjective evaluation in our criminal laws. We already consider what a "reasonable" person would think when we go to court. The same could apply to lawsuits. That would guarantee that not only would a lawyer or plaintiff consider how winnable a case is or how much money they will get, but they will also consider the possible punishment if their case is deemed a frivolous case.

Okay, what about the doctors? Unfortunately, I think they are the main root of the problem. Don't get me wrong, there's enough blame to go around. But I think doctors and those institutions that represent them (i.e. hospitals) are the ones that should get lions share of the blame for escalating healthcare costs. Like the insurance companies and lawyers, I think most doctors are driven by money. But they don't just want to be rich, they want to be filthy rich! They think that being a doctor means they should be a millionaire, so they charge accordingly. And that's the main problem. Why do doctors think they are entitled to be millionaires? Time and time again, I've heard doctor's complain about the high cost of malpractice insurance. But somehow, they can pay all those insurance premiums and still manage to be millionaires. A hundred or so years ago, doctors were driven by a passion to help people. Today they are driven by greed. I have personal experience to draw on. I have had doctors charge me HUNDREDS of dollars for a few seconds of their time, when they didn't even do a thing. One time we took my son to the Emergency Room because of a cut on his eye. Doctor finally came in, looked at his eye for maybe 10 to 20 seconds, said he'd be alright, and left. We got a bill for HUNDREDS, on top of the HUNDREDS that the hospital charged us. My wife was recently charged $400 for a 45 minute physical therapy session. What did that do? They showed her some exercises and put a heating pad on her back. The unprecedented greed and arrogance of the doctors today is mainly what's causing our healthcare system to spiral into mess it's in.

Jeff Polston


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