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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Healthcare Getting More Expensive

According the New York Times, “the rising cost of health care is prompting insurance premiums to skyrocket while coverage is shrinking. As Congress continues to debate the new health care law, health insurance costs are still rising, particularly for small businesses.” The newspaper gives an example of florist shop with 11 employees that saw premiums rise 40%.

Economists and state regulators say health insurance is expensive primarily because health care is expensive. The insurance industry says premiums are rising primarily because of the underlying cost of care and a growing demand for it.

Dr. Grout’s comment:

“Disease management” is a much more accurate description than “health care” for the system of medicine in America. To cope with decreasing payments from insurance companies, physicians are cutting the amount of time that they spend with patients, so that they can see more patients in a day. They are increasingly utilizing the services of Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners, who can easily deal with the “routine” care – blood pressure checks, diabetes checks, even some surgical procedures – thus enabling the physician (or the owner of the medical practice) to run more patients through the books on a daily basis, increasing the income to the practice.

The fact that insurance companies are now traded publicly on Wall Street is never mentioned. If the insurance “medical loss to benefit” ratio goes up – in other words if they spend more money on medical care and less money on advertising, salaries, etc – then the value of the stock goes down, the benefits payable to the executives go down, and the stockholders are unhappy. That is not a prescription for people paying less someday for health care.

There has been tremendous growth of the pharmaceutical industry in the last 50 years. An assumption is made that for every disease there is a drug which will cure it.

In my private practice, I find that the least expensive form of care is nutritional counseling. What we put into our mouths on a daily basis has a tremendous impact on the state of our health. If we put (expensive) pharmaceutical drugs into our mouths, we address one thing (high cholesterol) but break another (not having enough COQ10 on board to feed the heart muscle). Because the drug merely put a bandage on one symptom, the underlying problem is not addressed and down the road, we may see severe fatigue, congestive heart failure, incapacitating muscle pain… all of which are quite expensive to treat. If we start with nutritional counseling, and if the patients are willing to make the lifestyle changes required, then the pharmaceutical medication is never needed, and significant cost is averted. The only requirement is to pay for the time needed to go back to “food school” – i.e. physician office visits.

If the body is in imminent danger of death, then the use of pharmaceuticals as “rescue remedies” is quite likely appropriate. But drugs were not meant to replace everything else.

Medical professionals who are convinced the human organism was made to function well, given the right food, environment and social interaction tend to be looked down upon by their allopathic colleagues. As doctors, we should not place so much faith in scientific technology that we belittle the healing abilities of Mother Nature.

Problem is, that assumption is threatening to insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and to the manufacturing companies which produce the chemicals and genetically modified “foods” that contribute to a corporate profit and loss sheet. But it should not be threatening to physicians whose job is to create health.  

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