What’s Wrong with Health Care... in One Blog Post

Earlier this month, Texas Health Resources — a gigantic North Texas hospital and health care system — posted an innocuous-sounding item on its blog: quoting a spine surgeon, it urged people who’ve met their health care deductible this year “to consider getting the care that you may have delayed.”

So what’s wrong with that? If you’ve already covered your deductible for the year, why not get a surgery or procedure you haven’t been compelled to get up to now?

Such logic, and the Healthcare Industrial Complex’s profit motive in exploiting it, helps propel skyrocketing health care costs. It pushes people to get unnecessary procedures that don’t improve health — and sometimes even undermine it.  Unnecessary procedures drive up costs, especially for people and families with health insurance and employers that provide it.

And that’s what the blog post doesn’t tell you: regardless of your deductible, that extra procedure could cost you — and your friends, family, co-workers and community — in the form of higher premiums and higher deductibles.

Here are some numbers that show what I mean:

  • Roughly half the population relies on employer-sponsored insurance plans to pay for health care.

  • Costs for these families and working Texans doubled through the 2000s — and since 2010, costs have jumped more than twice as fast as Medicare spending.

  • While incomes largely stalled out over the past 20 years, the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance has reached $28,386 for a family of four — enough to buy a brand new Chevy Impala, every single year.

  • Medical-related issues are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the country.

By all means, if you really need care, get it. But many procedures and treatments don’t work much better than a placebo, have unpleasant or dangerous side effects, and/or can be avoided — in ways that are better for patients’ health, peace of mind, and quality of life.

Not only is unnecessary care worse for patients — it’s worse for society. When millions of people get care they don’t need, the costs show up in rising insurance premiums and deductibles.

Texas Health (a non-profit organization, for what it’s worth) isn’t unique — mammoth hospital and health care systems loom over American cities like Vesuvius over Pompei. You don’t get that big without selling a LOT of nights in the hospital, surgeries, specialist visits, etc. Profits from those sales cover billions of dollars in salaries, construction debt, executive bonuses and other stuff.

In this, Texas Health and other big hospital systems basically work like any other big company — they must sell enough of their service, at a high enough price, to stay big and get bigger.

Thing is, their service depends on something being wrong with you. When you’re feeling good, it’s bad for business.