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Blame healthcare’s money-grubbers

Special to The Times

Whenever I hear talk about universal healthcare in the U.S., I shudder. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that access to healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. What I fear is universal access to a system that, in my opinion, is fundamentally flawed.

We spend more per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world. A lot more. Especially considering that nearly one-sixth of the population has no health insurance. And the costs keep rising. Yet everyone just seems to throw their hands in the air and blame “medical advances.” But don’t they get those advances in Europe? Isn’t it time to look for other explanations?

Here is an example. Imitrex tablets came out 12 years ago at $8.95 a tablet. They now cost more than twice as much. An estimated 28 million people in this country suffer from migraines. How many of them take Imitrex? With relentless advertisement, how many don’t? What could have possibly justified price hikes as the drug became more popular?

Other examples: A friend of mine was charged $13,000 a day at the cardiac ICU of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. My mom went to an outpatient clinic there and was billed $800 for having a doctor look at her injured finger and conclude, “The finger is dead.” An ear, nose and throat specialist billed my insurance $1,100 for one office visit. The fundamental flaw of our healthcare system is that everyone is trying to make money. Care is a means to an end. It makes no business sense for drug makers, for example, to look for cures for chronic conditions. Whether it’s migraines or AIDS, the money is in treating symptoms -- for years. Maybe doctors write so many prescriptions because looking for alternatives takes more time, for which they’re not paid. Healthcare providers would rather we keep coming back, buying drugs, having expensive procedures done. And we as consumers are powerless.

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I probably won’t go back to that ENT, but where will I go next time I have a sinus infection? Any other ENT who is cheaper? I wouldn’t buy a TV based on price alone. Yet when it comes to healthcare, we are not qualified to make the choices that politicians give us.

Sometimes there isn’t a choice. When I have a migraine, I can either pay for Imitrex or suffer -- and be grateful the choice isn’t “pay or die.” When consumers can’t choose, providers can charge whatever they please. And if that is not price gouging, I don’t know what is.

If we don’t change that, universal access won’t make us much healthier, but likely much poorer.

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Olga Gorelik is a software developer, actress and writer who lives in West Hollywood.


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