Bureaucratic bandages not enough for system - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Bureaucratic bandages not enough for system

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Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009 7:51 pm | Updated: 1:16 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

 I am outraged that the government thinks it can fix health care without spending time in the trenches. As a family doctor in Phoenix since 1974, I am convinced Washington is completely off the mark. Having zero medical experience, politicians delude themselves that they can heal a system tangled in a web of malignant complexities by blindly wrapping it in costly bureaucratic bandages.

Fundamental problems haven’t even been discussed. We don’t need to “reform” the best health care delivery system in the world. What we need is a) insurance reform, b) tort reform and c) for politicians and bureaucrats to get out of our way. Creating a massive new entitlement will make things worse, no matter how many trillions of dollars we print. Anyone with a grasp of fourth-grade arithmetic knows that Washington, spending money like a drunken sailor, will not lower the deficit by spending $829 billion.

In 1974, when I began my career, practicing medicine was simple and fun. I only needed a nurse and a medical assistant to run an office. Patients paid a reasonable fee upfront, then filed their own insurance claims. Simple, efficient, cost-effective and leaving me more quality time with my patients. Now, a complex insurance billing system enslaves all health-care providers, multiplies costs and creates the need for a horde of workers to process claims and fill out countless forms. Managed care only makes things worse by adding another layer of pricey bureaucracy, complexity and inefficiency. If plumbers used a similar system, all of the toilets in the country would be perpetually clogged.

Free market competition to keep costs down doesn’t exist. Fees for every type of visit, procedure, service and treatment are established every year by the American Medical Association and approved by the government. This fee schedule controls what providers are paid and is biased toward procedure-oriented specialists. If I spend 45 minutes face-to-face with you, managing your complex medical issues, my office charges you about $140. After I have paid my overhead and my paper-shuffling army, I may get $70. An eye specialist spends less than 15 minutes for a $2,000 single-eye LASIK surgery. Is anyone surprised there is a shortage of primary physicians in this country?

Then there is the added costs of defensive medicine, what we in the profession call CYA. The brief lip service the president gave to malpractice in his speech (while smirking) convinced no one that anything will change. Everyone knows the trial lawyers have bought off this government. Apparently, Washington thinks we are total idiots.

None of the special interests want to change the status quo. The drug lobby, for instance, has spent $40 million to persuade Congress that drug prices would not be negotiated. We can already hear the squeals of politicians lining up at the trough as backroom deals stuff pork into what will be another 1,000-page bill that they will try to stuff down our throat without giving anyone, including themselves, time to read it.

I doubt very much Congress has the courage to do what is right because it could endanger their membership in the ruling class. Whatever they come up with, we must insist the elite are covered by the same health plan as us regular folks. If Congress won’t give up their lavish coverage and aren’t first in line to sign up for 0bamaCare, we’ll know once again we have been sold out.

Dr. Dennis Haughton is a family physician and practices emergency medicine

in Phoenix.

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