Initiates series of front-page reports about our health care looting: For years, we’ve been making a non-negotiable demand in the form of a question:
When would the New York Time do the obvious? When would it publish a series of front-page reports about the way the American public gets looted in the costs of health care?
We’ll guess we started asking this question in 2009, the year when the press corps pretended to stage a year-long debate about health care. This morning, to its credit, the New York Times has finally submitted to our will.
In the early going, the Times has already screwed up one part of the deal. It has failed to post Elisabeth Rosenthal’s lengthy front-page report in the Nexis archive. Unless this error is corrected, the piece will be lost to one band of future researchers.
That said, Rosenthal’s piece appears above the fold on the front page of this morning’s Times. It appears there beneath these headlines, as you can verify here:
The $2.7 Trillion Medical BillIn fact, colonoscopies only help explain that unfortunate matter, as Rosenthal correctly writes in her actual text. In that report, Rosenthal details the way Americans get looted on this procedure, as compared to people elsewhere in the developed world.
Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures
Under a dateline of Merrick, New York, this is the way starts:
ROSENTHAL (6/2/13): Deirdre Yapalater’s recent colonoscopy at a surgical center near her home here on Long Island went smoothly: she was whisked from pre-op to an operating room where a gastroenterologist, assisted by an anesthesiologist and a nurse, performed the routine cancer screening procedure in less than an hour. The test, which found nothing worrisome, racked up what is likely her most expensive medical bill of the year: $6,385.In other developed countries, this common procedure costs “well under $1,000.” Citizens here are getting looted, to the very substantial degree Rosenthal described in that passage.
That is fairly typical: in Keene, N.H., Matt Meyer’s colonoscopy was billed at $7,563.56. Maggie Christ of Chappaqua, N.Y., received $9,142.84 in bills for the procedure. In Durham, N.C., the charges for Curtiss Devereux came to $19,438, which included a polyp removal. While their insurers negotiated down the price, the final tab for each test was more than $3,500.
“Could that be right?” said Ms. Yapalater, stunned by charges on the statement on her dining room table. Although her insurer covered the procedure and she paid nothing, her health care costs still bite: Her premium payments jumped 10 percent last year, and rising co-payments and deductibles are straining the finances of her middle-class family, with its mission-style house in the suburbs and two S.U.V.’s parked outside. “You keep thinking it’s free,” she said. “We call it free, but of course it’s not.”
In many other developed countries, a basic colonoscopy costs just a few hundred dollars and certainly well under $1,000.That chasm in price helps explain why the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care.
Rosenthal’s report is lengthy and detailed—and she says there are more reports to come! In response to the non-negotiable demands we have advanced for several years, Rosenthal makes this pledge:
“In coming months, The New York Times will look at common procedures, drugs and medical encounters to examine how the economic incentives underlying the fragmented health care market in the United States have driven up costs, putting deep economic strains on consumers and the country.”
Unfortunately, you see the downside to Rosenthal’s work to date in that polite formulation, in which she attributes the obvious looting of American citizens to “the economic incentives underlying the fragmented health care market in the United States,” incentives which have “driven up costs, putting deep economic strains on consumers and the country.”
That formulation isn’t wrong; it’s just extremely polite. A cynic would say it represents a form of, “Hey, look quick! Look over there!” In the end, such excessive politeness may tend to keep readers from grasping the depth of the looting which is being described here.
Indeed, it may keep readers from understanding the fact that looting is being described here at all. Rosenthal never uses that unpleasant term, which may seem like a sensible journalistic decision.
Should Rosenthal use a term like “looting?” Before you cheer her self-restraint, you might want to note that she does use terms like this, early in her report:
ROSENTHAL: While the United States medical system is famous for drugs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and heroic care at the end of life, it turns out that a more significant factor in the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care bill may not be the use of extraordinary services, but the high price tag of ordinary ones. “The U.S. just pays providers of health care much more for everything,” said Tom Sackville, chief executive of the health plans federation and a former British health minister.We’re allowed to hear about “heroic care at the end of life.” But that flowery language isn’t balanced by an evocative term like “looting.”
In fairness, the Times has bent to our will; it says more reports will follow. So will the inevitable Pulitzer Prize, a point we have made in the past when we’ve marveled at the failure of major newspapers to undertake this blindingly obvious journalistic assignment.
But will these future reports go where the rubber meets the road? Will they help readers understand the depth of the scam Rosenthal is reporting?
Rosenthal is describing an astounding situation. Within the next week, we will issue new demands concerning the future reports she and the Times have promised.