Sunday, April 11, 2010

There's no escape from Magical Thinking on health care apparently

There's a good bit of magical thinking around the idea of preventive care. One of the most disingenuous aspects of this is the push for these measures as "free" as part of the health care reform debate. Nothing of value is free, and in health care the overhead propping up the system makes that even more true.

Now there are both cheap and expensive measures that included in what we call preventive care or cancer screening, but at the end of the day they do not save money (even if they may make us healthier). It's actually counterintuitive that some bad habits or diseases from them (smoking or diabetes) may actually save  money as they die younger and end up costing less over a lifetime. That's not a reason to not support early intervention, but it is something that has to be considered when making your countries health care budget.

The truth that the health care costs as a % of GDP are ignored by the bill passed is really scandalous. Facing those true costs was not something the  left was going to let get in the way of entrenching their goal of federal health care. A story about the effects of the health care reform bill I read (see here) seemed to forget that all costs matter until pointed out over and over by readers in the comments section. I thought this one was spot on,

Colonoscopies and mammograms are absolutely not “preventive” care, they are early detection. Having a mammography will not prevent breast cancer any more than owning an umbrella will prevent rain. It may stave off the full and most dire effects of a diagnosis of cancer by allowing early intervention, but that is far from prevention. You will have to pay for the surgery, the radiation, the medication, all the same. Talk about “magical thinking”.
The politics of  telling people NO is complicated and gets caught up in issue driven advocacy groups. A large study from Denmark touched on this obliquely by studying an area of screening efficacy (or lack thereof) when they found no evidence that screening women for breast cancer has any effect on death rates when applied to their countries women in well organized screening programs. For context, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, accounting for around 16 percent of all female cancers and is attributed to almost 519,000 people globally each year.

How do other western countries with modern health care systems screen for breast cancer? In Denmark, women are screened every two years from age 50, while in Britain the policy is for women over 50 to be screened about every 3 years. Evidence now suggests that for every 2,000 women who are screened over 10 years, only one stands to have her life saved by the mammogram program, whereas the chance of getting an unnecessary breast cancer diagnosis is 10 times that.

If you'll remember in 2009, we had a hailstorm of controversy here in America when it was suggested that our current guidelines of starting screening mammograms at 40 was neither cost-effective nor evidence-based for affecting breast cancer mortality. There was a lot of ignorant political grandstanding on this as a woman's issue (step forward congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz D-FL) and Democrat's were furious that this kind of recommendation was coming out during their poorly-conceived sales job on health care reform. God forbid there be any notion that evidence based medicine might infringe upon you right to insist on your ______ (Mammogram, CT Scan, MRI, back surgery, etc....) without considering considering the cost or efficacy. It was a lie then and it's a lie now.


No comments: