A Change In The Wind For Health Care Costs?

It seems like it is time to once again to take on the topic of health care in the US.

This is not a new topic for me, but every so often something goads me into sitting down in front of the computer and yet again point out the folly of someone's 'idea' of how to fix it. More often than not the so-called answer is some form of socialized medicine, something that has failed miserably every place it's been tried. Yet somehow folks here will see it as a panacea that will fix all of our problems....except that it will only end up make things worse. (Remember the definition of insanity that I quote here from time to time? ”Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting the results to be different this time.” I think it applies in this case.)

Does anyone remember HillaryCare? Then First Lady Hillary Clinton pushed a form of health care reform that was nothing more than a conglomeration of the health care systems of France, the UK, and Canada. When the Clinton's were on a state visit to France, Hillary mentioned to the First Lady of France that the US was going to implement a health care system much like France's. Her (paraphrased) reply - “Why would you want to do something like that? Your system is far superior to ours. Ours is crumbling under the strain and health care is becoming universal. Universally poor.”

Yet there are folks out there pushing for something much like that, as if it will somehow magically cure all of the problems in our health care system.

But we have no reason to abandon all hope. Believe it or not, there is a change occurring that bodes well for our system. Simply put, the competitive market is forcing much needed and long overdue changes to be made.

It's Friday evening and you suspect that your child might have strep throat or a worsening ear infection. Do you bundle him up and wait half the night in an emergency room? Or do you suffer through the weekend and hope that you can get an appointment with your pediatrician on Monday -- taking time off your job to drive across town for another wait in the doctor's office?

Every parent has faced this dilemma. But now there are new options, courtesy of the competitive marketplace. You might instead be able to take a quick trip on Friday night to a RediClinic in the nearby Wal-Mart or a MinuteClinic at CVS, where you will be seen by a nurse practitioner within 15 minutes, most likely getting a prescription that you can have filled right there. Cost of the visit? Generally between $40 and $60.

These new retail health clinics are opening in big box stores and local pharmacies around the country to treat common maladies at prices lower than a typical doctor's visit and much lower than the emergency room. No appointment necessary. Open daytime, evenings and weekends. Most take insurance.

Here it is, small clinics providing basic health care for a reasonable cost and kickin' ass when it comes to replacing some of the more traditional means of patient care. Here are a number of private for-profit companies doing what it appears regular medical practices and hospitals can't do without a mountain of paperwork and high costs.

There are other avenues for lower medical costs, one of the more well known being both WalMart and Target offering generic prescription drugs at a $4 flat fee.

But it's only a beginning. There are other factors to look at for the ever climbing costs of medical care. As I've written a number of time before, the two biggest factors in the rising health care costs are health insurance and malpractice lawsuits.

It used to be that the old fashioned General Practitioner had a nurse (or two) who also doubled as receptionist and file clerk. That was all that was needed. But when medical insurance became the norm, the number of people needed to process the paperwork and update patient records grew to the point where you now have more paper pushers than actual health care personnel in the system. Where do you think the money to pay these people comes from?

The fear of malpractice lawsuits, and the malpractice insurance costs, have driven some physicians to close their practices or change their specialties. If you've ever wondered why some doctors will order a series of tests that may have little to do with a condition a patient may have, think of those tests as evidence the doctor is gathering in order to defend his or her diagnosis should they be sued by a patient. Is it any wonder why health care costs have kept rising faster than the rate of inflation.

There are other factors involved as well, such as patients demanding the latest greatest wizbang gee-whiz treatments or technology even if they are inappropriate for the condition they may have. And it goes even beyond that, with so many other causes that I could spend hours listing them all. But very few of them relate to the actual cost of providing treatment.

This is a subject that I'll be revisiting again as the 'crisis' unfolds.

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