When it comes to discussing U.S. healthcare and the economy, most of the debate is about how and if the government should help make sure medical care is available to everyone, regardless of income. And while the enormous cost of medical care is usually a key part of these discussions, what is rarely mentioned is just why healthcare is so extremely expensive.
It turns out, according to a new American College of Physicians (ACP) policy paper just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that a huge amount of these costs are simply unnecessary. Bottom line: up to $765 billion, which accounts for around 30 percent of U.S. healthcare costs, are identified in the paper as the result of mostly inappropriate or unnecessary tests, treatments and other services.
To put this enormous financial drain on the economy in perspective, consider that health expenditures are projected to keep going up, if nothing changes in the way doctors tend to treat patients, until these costs reach almost 20 percent of the United States' GDP by 2020. Many economists, the authors of the new position paper state, consider this spending rate unsustainable.
Amir Qaseem, MD, Director of Clinical Policy for the ACP, points out in the paper that the trend in analyzing the use of medical services has been primarily aimed at the underuse of tests and treatments considered to be "high value." But, increasingly, experts have developed ways to measure the value of so-called "low value" interventions that are used widely. And, it turns out, these tests often have little use except to hike up the skyrocketing costs of medical care.
The new policy paper points out, for example, that diagnostic imaging tests such as x-rays and MRIs for uncomplicated, low back pain don't improve the health outcomes of patients. But because they are widely used, these tests -- although useless for the most common, everyday sort of back pain -- rack up enormous medical costs for Americans. What's more, countless people are exposed to radiation and other potentially cancer-causing side effects of tests that they and/or their insurance companies then have to pay for even though the tests weren't needed at all.
"We need valid, evidence-based performance measures to reduce the overuse of tests and treatments that provide little benefit or might even cause harm," Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, Director of Clinical Policy for the ACP, said in a statement to the media. "Physicians and patients need to work together to pursue care that improves health, avoids harms, and eliminates wasteful practices."
As Natural News recently reported, the epidemic of over-prescribed drugs is also contributing to financial hardships on individuals and the economy as a whole. A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by Harvard researchers found business executives are unaware they could be wasting billions of their gross profits on ineffective, even harmful drugs in their health plans. They are also paying for treating the side-effects of these drugs.
About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.