Monday, June 01, 2009
McAllen, Texas - America's failing experiment in health care cost control.
There's a collision course of sorts that's been playing out in medicine for the last 25 years. As the costs of health care have consumed more and more of GDP, the system has become unsustainable. Physician salaries bore the brunt of early cost containment with effective pay cuts of 50-60% in real income since the mid 1980's. More recently it's been the patients on the receiving end, with more employers dropping coverage and more people enrolled in high deductible/high copay plans.
An article in the New Yorker Magazine, "The Cost Conundrum - What a Texas town can teach us about health care" profiles McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the most expensive place in the country in terms of annual expenditures on medicare beneficiaries. It illustrates the law of unintended consequences and reinforces the notion that anyone who thinks health care costs will come down with universal coverage is foolish. More coverage = more utilization, particularly when patients do not bare much of the costs themselves out of pocket.
The article also features the behavioral changes of physicians as they've become more entrepreneurial. It's profiled as a negative in the article, but it really should be encouraged. In modern medicine, if you do not run your practice like a business, then your practice will fail. Physicians should be encouraged (when able) to align their entrepreneurial interests with their patients. In many instances this will run you head first into government bureaucracy and established interests as in the case of my office surgery suite. Don't even get me started on the fact that I'd be able to do some procedures in my soon to be accredited office O.R. at 40%+ discounts to Medicare and Blue Cross for what it costs to do in a hospital. You'd think this would be of interest to Medicare and the state of Alabama as it would likely save several hundred thousand dollars annually, but instead it's like talking to a brick wall.
Cosmetic Plastic Surgery practices has been the attentive to economics for a long time, and you're forced to be cost-conscious to maintain that kind of practice. The revenue from the cosmetic procedures I do affords me the opportunity to maintain a busy reconstructive practice on cancer patients.