DMI Blog

Michael Townes Watson

The True Culprits of the Health Care Crisis

Cross-posted from TortDeform.Com
(Originally titled: Pervasive Commercialization of Healthcare)

Although there are still pervasive attempts by the insurance industry to blame the high cost of healthcare on injured patients and their lawyers, the truth lies elsewhere. According to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the cost is mostly attributable to the “pervasive commercialization” of healthcare products and services. (See

I am always impressed by the quality of the factual examination and evaluation of the authors printed in this Journal, and this particular author is no exception. He pinpoints the fact that our system has forced limitations on the primary care doctor’s most precious commodity—his time—adequate time to review a chart, take a history, truly listen to a patient. “You can't do all that in 10 minutes.” The result, he says, is missed cues, mistakes, and more tests to compensate for a lack of hands-on examination.

His conclusion is not that we should limit patients’ lawsuits to reduce the cost of healthcare. In fact, he dismisses “excessive litigation and defensive medicine” as non-factors in the escalating cost of medical care. His culprits, rather than lawyers and patients, are “profits, billing, marketing, and the gratuitous costs of private bureaucracies [that] siphon off $400 billion to $500 billion of the $2.1 trillion spent.” An even more serious and less appreciated syndrome is the “set of perverse incentives produced by commercial dominance of the system.”

According to this author, then, it is not the greediness of the trial lawyers or the patients looking for a “lawsuit lottery” who are to blame. It is, instead, the greed of a different group, he says, “the dominance of for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies, a new wave of investor-owned specialty hospitals, and profit-maximizing behavior even by nonprofit players.”

This author is not a trial lawyer, not an aggrieved patient, not a lobbyist for a lawyer group. Instead, he is an advocate for universal healthcare coverage. He examined the economics of healthcare systems in other countries where “everyone is covered and there are no incentives to pursue the most profitable treatments rather than those dictated by medical need.” He found these systems to have far safer standards that avoid adverse consequences, as well as avoiding excessive costs.

The author concludes that a universal healthcare system is the best way to match healthcare resources with patient needs. I draw a further conclusion that seems inescapable from this article: The profit motive of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries is a significant incentive for those industries to do everything in their power to perpetuate the profits. That means they blame the injured patients and lawyers for the high cost of healthcare so that they can perpetuate those profits. Their propaganda serves this purpose well.

Michael Townes Watson, author of America’s Tunnel Vision—How Insurance Companies’ Propaganda Is Corrupting Medicine and Law.

Michael Townes Watson: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 22, 2008 in Civil Justice | Corporate Accountability | Health Care
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