Health Care Reform and “Dr. Avarice J. Greed, M.D., P.C.”

I hadn’t decided whether to bring “the design of government” to health care reform, but at the request of Anna D. (“Thanks, Anna!”) and having seen this WaPo article on Dr. Avarice J. Greed, M.D., P.C., and his confreres, and having received a long email from my sister, a retired nurse (see below), I think I’ll give it a shot.

Over the next few posts, I’ll comment on several issues:

1. Supply. The AMA (American Medical Association) closed half the medical schools in America about the turn of the last century. And, ever heard of “barefoot doctors”?

2. Demand. How much of obesity is due to low incomes? The Danes have a saying, “You have to be rich to be thin.” Would encouraging unions reduce obesity more than education? The GINI Index again.

3. System inefficiencies. Two flavors: Opportunities for information sharing and insurance company profits.

4. Medical mal-avarice. See below for starters.

My sister was first in her class in nursing school, and is now retired and raising show quality dogs. So she’s experienced hospital pricing from the inside and vet pricing from the outside. Her observations:

I never had a job in any “company.” Obviously hospitals try to make money, and particularly in Union [SC] they invited the head RN’s to the top staff meetings. Such things as the base room rate being as low as possible-around $105 a day at that time — 1990 — because they said people call around if a procedure is non-emergency, and what they ask is the base rate. So then you just add higher prices for everything else, and I do mean everything.

At that time, a bag of IV fluid cost the hospital $1.00, we charged the patient $10.00. A foley catheter cost us $5.00, the patient paid $57.00. But then of course, they added for 1-1 RN care, etc.

Same basic thing at my previous job in Psych at MUSC, [Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston] the base room rate was low, but they had at least 5 therapies for each patient, and I mean the group ones like physical therapy, music therapy, this isn’t counting the medical student seeing the patient, the intern, the resident, the MD, the staffing, etc, etc.

But what got me the most was in Union. I worked there about the time Office Max and that type of store opened. Of course they sent catalogs to everyone. I knew the prices we paid in Central Supply for packs of 3 x 5 cards, pens, all sorts of stuff, and of course there are hundreds if not thousands of those things. Some of the prices that hospital paid for office supplies were 10X what Office Max charged. So I went to the head of that department with the catalog in hand, marked, but he said they liked to order everything from one supplier, so paid whatever that supplier charged.

The darn vets are the same now. If I buy a bag of IV fluids from my vets, it is $35.00. They are exactly, and I mean brand, label, everything, the same as we used in Union, and every other job I have had. IV fluids are considered a prescription drug, whereas the tubing and the needles are not. I can get the identical fluids for $3.99 a bag from KV vet but the Vet has to call or fax the prescription in. They do allow for the vet to tell them what you can have in a year, and you can order it however you want. Of course the shipping is fairly high, so I order maybe 12 at a time, which that lasts me usually a year. And I can buy if from a site that is supposed to be for vets, but I have a password, every breeder I know uses it, for $4.99. The same stuff, Propofol, that Michael Jackson used IV, it is on that site.

The lady that is the financial head of my Vets’ 2 offices, told me the same identical thing, they want to order everything from one place. I have a catalog that the medicine for preventing the dog version of Alzheimer’s, called Old Dog Encephalitis, Selegiline, 5 mg twice a day, costs $5.99 for 500 tablets. The first time I had Huey, Andrew’s father, to the vet for confusion, maybe 2 years ago, the vet told me she had read it helped, but had offered it to 3 clients, but the $200 a month caused them not to get it. I had her write down the name and dose, (just so I could remember it) — the dose is the same for people – and when I went to Wal-Mart it was $46.00; I called Pet Care RX, it was $26.00. Then I saw it in a catalog for vets for $5.99 for a huge size. I can order anything from that catalog except for prescriptions. I got a box the size that a pair of high top sneakers would be shipped in, absolutely stuffed with IV tubings, for $4.99 the other day, 100 of them.

Would it not pay a hospital or a busy vets’ office, really 2 offices with 7 vets, one full time person’s pay to check prices and order things from different suppliers? In IV fluids alone they could pay that person a week’s salary a month. They even order packages of sweetener and sugar and instant coffee from the same place!

 How do things like this fit into the direction of having a great company? And of course I only see a few things!

And all I’ll add is that (a) if you can pass on all your costs to the patients (customers) AND add a percentage for profit, who cares what things cost? And that (b) when your customers or patients have no idea of your costs, you can charge them whatever you like!

When I worked for DOD, back in the 1960’s, we had both “cost-plus contracts” and “contractor-furnished lunches.” I loved CFLs – can you guess who paid? It was you, the American taxpayer!

Both are now outlawed in DOD – now how about health care? Duh!

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