Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A VENOMOUS MIX OF MONEY AND MEDICINE


May 11, 2011

After I threw a snake at the wife I chanced once more upon what I believe is some of the most egregious plundering of the health system in this country.
They’ll tell you – and they will keep on telling you until you believe it – that it’s the malingerers, the hypochondriacs, the bottom-of-the-rung cheats who’re siphoning the money out. That these are the ones driving up health insurance costs and bankrupting the government’s Medicare and Medicaid.
Like all the best lies, there’s a bit of truth in that. It’s the devil’s way. There are indeed many petty knaves out there filching small amounts. However, the Big Truth is that the major culprits are ruthless, greedy people on the other side of the medical fence who routinely sack the system by performing unnecessary procedures and filing false claims. Meantime, they push their guilt onto the little guy – an easy patsy.
There are horrendous stories of avaricious surgeons carrying out needless hystorectomies, heart bypasses, the lot. They’ll cut you just for the money, these despicable slimeballs. Here’s how to tell them apart from street thugs: they wear white coats and don’t swear.
A 2010 report estimates the number of unnecessary operations at 7.5 million a year and an earlier bulletin said that made up 60 percent of all US surgeries. Frightening. And also profoundly unsettling; some might be simply inept, but there are so many healers who actually choose to heal the un-sick. So:
Put down that scalpel, you loathsome quack. I want a second opinion. These firm words might save you so long as your next doctor is ethical. But let’s talk local. Starting today Wifey and I have established a rule: Go West. And here’s why:
Everyone we’ve talked to locally has a story of – I’ll be generous – “lapses” in the medical treatment this far out from Atlanta. Surgeries that were not needed, surgeries that didn’t work...
A longtime buddy was in Athens Regional Hospital to have a parathyroid gland removed. Six months later he was admitted to Emory to have a parathyroid gland removed. Yes, the same operation all over again. “There’s a faint chance they took out the wrong one,” he says. “But I’m convinced they simply cut me open and sewed me back up without removing anything.”
Our neighbor’s teenaged son was about to have his leg cut open by Athens surgeons when a family friend rushed out of retirement to set it in a cast: a last-minute reprieve from the knife. Another acquaintance broke her pelvis in three places. Our hospital in Monroe said surgery was the only answer - until her husband uttered the two magic words “second opinion” and there emerged another answer: Hey ho! No surgery.
My wife’s broken wrist had a small crack. At Athens Orthopedic Clinic a physician’s assistant – in other words just “some guy” – was adamant she needed an incision and a titanium plate. “Second opinion” got the fellow all miffed and huffy, but we’re smiling.
Because next day at Eastside in Snellville a real doctor diagnosed the clean break correctly. After three weeks the fiberglass cast is off, and we’re left wondering whether Athens Orthopedic would have cut her open just for the money. It happens a lot.
Multi-millionaire Dr Vishal Makker in Oregon settled four of his many malpractice suits. Several patients complained of unnecessary spinal surgeries: one of his patients received seven procedures in two years.
Operations on the spine have generated lawsuits galore, and I suppose if you’re that keen on money you could go get yourself crippled and sue. It’s a darn sight more lucrative than selling your blood.
But it’s all to do with money, isn’t it. So when doctors turn theirs into a business the number of surgeries nearly doubles. They’ll operate when there’s no need. They’ll create an illness where there isn’t one.
A case in point might be lasik eye surgery, a “miraculous” procedure that carries risks and long-term consequences anyway, yet is immensely popular. Here’s how it goes:
We can work something out, suggests this charlatan in a most amiable, doctory sort of way. A nudge, a wink and you get lasik at no cost even though it’s not covered by insurance. He’ll class it as something like removal of excess fatty tissue over the eyelids that was causing severe discomfort and vision impairment - and bill accordingly. Thousands more in his pocket.
Easy.
But it’s a crime. A straightforward one to which the patient is not always a knowing party; they sometimes develop a nasty case of jaw-sag at the amount Dr Greedy B. Liar has billed the insurance.
The snake? Not those I’ve been describing but the one that got Wifey injured.
Why does everyone ask what happened to it? I don’t know. It scuttled off. It was a black racer and it was in the henhouse, so I took a stick and tossed it out. It landed between her feet, she staggered back, slipped on the gravel and broke her wrist.
Stacey Malloy at the Post Office “just knew” this was spousal abuse and advised my missus to check in to a shelter. When I selected the North Shore Animal League because it’s ‘no-kill' they both threatened to throw a snake at me – on purpose this time.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.