Hailed by some, ripped by others and largely ignored in Washington
It takes Steven Brill 36 pages to answer the question posed on the March 4th cover of Time magazine: why are medical bills killing us?
He ended up on ABC's "This Week" and on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" on Comedy Central, among other places. I've heard medical industry bashers hail Brill's "Bitter Pill" article as a definitive work and its defenders call into question some of not all of Brill's assertions. That's good, because it means it's been heard.
Wonder if Washington has it's ears on.
March 23rd brings us the third anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, or as many of it's detractors like to call it, Obamacare. Proponents say it's a seminal date. Detractors repeat their opposition and rally for it's repeal.
How's about we talk about the health care system itself?
Whether you think ours is the world's gold standard or if think it's junk, Brill's work needs to be discussed at the highest levels. The silence in the Senate and House only enforces one of Brill's harshest allegations: that Washington is a wholly owned subsidiary of a broken medical system, bought and paid for by deep-pocketed lobby groups who's sole mission it is to maintain the status quo.
If you haven't read Brill's entire piece, it's well worth the search. Brill tries to explain how hospitals set prices (you'll be slack-jawed), calls out non-profit hospitals and the salaries they pay their execs, details how new technologies come to hospitals near you (and at what price) and explains why doctors do so many of those damned tests (in part to cover them against malpractice, but it's a little more complicated than that).
Washington seems ready to convene commissions and investigations at the drop of a hat, especially is there's some political leverage to be gained. Congress eagerly jumped into the steroids fray, inviting big leaguers to DC where some gave memorable (and, in some cases, embarrassing) testimony. They didn't fix anything, mind you, but it made for great theater on a subject that was very top-of-mind at the time, giving lawmakers a chance to say, "See, we're serious about the problems that affect you life."
What is more important than medical care, the threat that bad news at the doctor's office can leave you not only infirm but insolvent as well? It's a sad drama that plays out every day across the country, yet no one in DC seems to have the stones to ask why we pay what we do in the first place.
Steven Brill lays it out. Is every allegation, every accusation true? A self-described medical mythbuster takes issue with ten different points raised by Brill, and that's fine--we need intelligent conversation about this, not only in national publications and on cable news, but in the halls of Congress. If someone knows if that's happening, please let me know.
Otherwise, we're left to assume that this is too bitter of a pill for our lawmakers to swallow.