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High tech costs for health care

Melvin B. Miller
High tech costs for health care
“You better get the operation now. The costs go up next month.”

Labor Day reminds us of the many changes in life. The summer wardrobe is no longer appropriate. The fall clothes we put away months ago are now back in fashion, to hold center stage until the arctic blasts arrive. But these seasonal adjustments are trivial when compared to the impact of technology on American society. A prime example is how technologically sophisticated inventions have affected the cost and availability of health care.

Medical care was simplistic in the days of yore. An enormous breakthrough was the development of anesthesia in 1846. Prior to that time the patient had to attempt to ignore the pain from surgery or the repair of an injury. There was no x-ray to assist with the accurate setting of broken bones until 1895. The more medically sophisticated observation of internal soft tissue problems was not available until the invention of the MRI in 1977.

Many major cities and counties were able to operate public hospitals which provided low cost services for residents. Local taxes financed operating costs. Some religious groups also financed public hospitals. Now the only really public hospitals are operated by the federal government. The extraordinary expense of providing the latest medical technology has forced most public hospitals to become tax exempt corporations dependent on patients’ insurance payments and charitable donations.

There has been no way to avoid the rising costs of medical technology. The new inventions would quickly set the required professional standard for treatment. Those who failed to employ the latest medical techniques would risk being considered negligent if their treatment was unsuccessful.

Another medical issue has now emerged. In the old days, those with an exotic ailment would simply perish. But now pharmaceutical companies often assume the task of developing remedies. According to a recent report in the New York Times, about 30 million Americans suffer from one of about 7,000 rare diseases. It is very expensive for a drug company to develop a remedy for any of the so-called “orphan illnesses.”

The ultimate problem is that there will be very few patients for any special remedy. As a consequence, each treatment will have an astronomical price. The insurance company that is obligated to pay the medical bill will experience a substantial operating expense.

It now seems that the great cost of quality medical care has tempered the enthusiasm of those in power to provide medical attention for all Americans. Years ago when medical care was little more than TLC (tender loving care), it was less costly to be compassionate. Times have changed.

Nonetheless, other industrialized nations have found a way to care for the health of their citizens. Perhaps there can be another change in America that inspires
a greater love for one another. Maybe after 2020.