Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Statistics...and Bounty Hunters

FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine) has shed some light on the nature of the statistics that “prove” that socialized medicine is better than our bruised and battered, but still semi-free, American healthcare system. Referring to a piece written by Dr. Linda Halderman, Dr. Paul Hsieh (Co-founder of FIRM), cites these excerpts from her article:

FAQ-If socialized medicine is so bad, why are infant mortality rates higher in the U.S. than in other developed nations with government or single-payer health care?

...According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing <500g is not considered a living child.

But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies -- considered "unsalvageable" outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive -- is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.

...Forty percent of all infant deaths occur in the first 24 hours of life.

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth (take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and does not affect the country’s reported infant mortality rates.

As Benjamin Disraeli once observed, there are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Also from FIRM, it appears that our government is getting desperate. Medicare and Medicaid are now employing bounty hunters to track down “greedy”doctors who “overcharge” the government-run programs for medical services. Dr. Hsieh, referring to Dr. Evan Madianos’ post at Med Politics, writes:

The article also describes in detail the "Kafka-esque" nightmare of Dr. Jeffrey E. Kaufman, a urologist accused of overbilling for drugs. Only after he spent "countless hours of unpaid work" submitting numerous records and appeals, did he finally clear his good name of the accusations of financial impropriety.

Many physicians don't even bother to dispute the charges but instead just pay the penalty, because "the cost to the practice of retrieving the corresponding record and forwarding the information could be 10 times that amount" of the requested fine.

If this program is implemented nationwide, I expect we'll see large numbers of RAC "bounty hunters" making money by alleging real or imagined billing errors by physicians who are caught in a maze of increasingly-complex Medicare regulations that no one can be reasonably expected to follow…

The end result will be that the bureaucrats and parasites who create no actual value will make out like bandits, while the producers (i.e., the physicians) get sucked dry.

When doctors are obliged to pay the salaries of their own destroyers, this takes us dangerously close to the nightmare scenario depicted in the classic novel, Atlas Shrugged.

But the most interesting comment comes at the end of Dr. Hsieh’s post:

(Of course some doctors have decided to opt of the Medicare altogether and adopt alternative practice models, such as concierge medicine. If Medicare continues to create disincentives for physicians, I expect this trend will accelerate, just as the large numbers of Baby Boomers hit retirement -- in which case things are going to get very interesting very quickly...)

This begs the question…what if the Left’s quest for a total government takeover of medicine is successful? What if doctors no longer have the option of going into “alternative practice models”? Will doctors who cannot submit to the government’s heavy-handed tactics yet have no private-practice alternatives simply leave the field? Who will replace them? Perhaps Dr. Hendricks, the surgeon in Atlas Shrugged who quit after the government takeover of healthcare, should be heeded here:

Let them discover the kind of doctors their system will now produce. Let them discover…that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it- and even less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.

I suspect there will be a lot of Dr. Hendricks’

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