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WSJ Editorial on the Cost of Healthcare

Healthcare remains on the national mind these days. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding President Obama’s healthcare law, the Republican House voting to repeal the law, and the Presidential election ensure that TV pundit shows, water cooler chats, and dinner table conversations often involve mention of healthcare in American. The focus is mostly on two issues: Why does it cost so much? What can we do about it?

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers often address this issue, because many continue to mistakenly connect the civil justice system to the concerns about medical costs. Yet, it is vital that more investigate these issues and come to understand that tackling medical costs has virtually nothing to do with limiting the rights of medical malpractice victims via tort reform laws. The actual mechanisms of healthcare costs are far more complicated.

A recent Wall Street Journal story discussed some of the realities of the Medicare and medicaid systems to help readers understand why costs are so high. The story shares information about one patient who quickly became “one of the most expensive Americans on medicare.”

The man was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy when he was 26. This refers to a condition where the heart is enlarged and unable to efficiently pump. The man had a heart transplant when he was 41 years old. Complications soon developed, however, and he eventually was thrown into intensive care for nearly a year, with his gall bladder, leg, and part of a lung removed. He was apparently in unrelenting pain. By the time the man finally passed away the government had spent $2.1 million on his care for a single year

That particular case, the editorial notes, is a reminder that a very select group of the sickest patients are the ones who cost the Medicare system the most. In 2009, for example, the top 10% of Medicare beneficiaries accounted for 64% of the overall spending. As a demographic group seniors account for by far the largest, amount, with 76% of costs going to those over sixty five years old.

The spending continues to rise, with Medicare alone accounting for 13.5% of all federal expenditures. That is expected to increase to 16.2% in ten years.

Tackling the problems requires honest analysis of these facts. Medicare patients in their last year of life cost by far more than others in the system. All experts note that there will be certain patients who have disproportionate costs. However, there are still things that can be done to minimize costs. For example, the man who racked up $2.1 million in bills in his last life had his troubles spiral downward because of a preventable infection.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers have consistently argued that lowered infection rates are a key component to better, most cost efficient care. All serious discussions about lowering medical expenditures need to focus on these issues and not distractions to appease certain interest groups.

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