Fine Line Between Rationing And Appropriate Healthcare
Rationing: It’s a dirty word. Some politicians and activists warn of the dangers of a public option that would have the government ration out health care, and point to Europe as a cautionary tale; others claim that care is already being rationed indirectly by a patient’s health insurance plan. Either way, the thought of being denied needed medical treatment because of a callous calculation is scary. Costs need to be cut, either by the federal government or private insurance companies looking to maximize their profits–therefore, everyone’s looking for whatever procedures may be considered unnecessary and wasteful.
How do you know if you’re a victim of rationing, as opposed to a recipient of high-quality, sensible health care? In Newsweek magazine, medical school professor Christopher Moore acknowledged this dilemma. Sometimes, excess treatment can hurt the patient more than it helps. Take CT scans, for example. Admittedly, they are costly, with prices continuing to rise (and also being passed onto your family health insurance bill); but CT scanners are amazing medical technology that can identify if a head injury is life-threatening. However, studies have shown that the probability of that being the case are relatively tiny. Meanwhile, there is up to a 1-in-1,000 chance of each CT scan causing eventual death from cancer (due to the radiation involved), even more so for younger patients. The medical risks of doing a CT scan on a teenager with a concussion could outweigh the benefits, even after removing cost from the equation. Keeping a close watch on the patient might be a better bet.
So if your doctor refuses to perform an expensive test or other procedure, it’s very likely that he or she has a legitimate medical reason for it. If you get more affordable health insurance because of the reduced cost, so much the better, but that’s not the #1 priority. Occasionally, a physician who performs the procedure might be doing it solely to avoid a malpractice lawsuit. The prospect of a government-run public option won’t stop that. Moore insists that a doctor who genuinely believes an expensive procedure is sorely needed won’t let cost concerns stop him or her from ordering it. Let’s hope so.
(Image: Akira Oghaki under CC 2.0)