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A group of doctors operates on a patient in a hospital setting.
Hospitals throw away billions of dollars worth of unopened, unexpired supplies every year, sometimes merely because it was furnished for use during surgery but ended up not being needed. Eliminating waste would go a long way towards providing cheaper healthcare for all. Public domain image by Skeeze, courtesy of Pixabay. CC0

Everybody’s talking about the rising cost of medical care. As the Baby Boomers age and the Millennials experience the joys (and expenses) of parenthood, we’re all interested in staying healthy while also keeping bills under control. With the Affordable Care Act, well-intentioned Democrats reached across the aisle with a compromise plan that would cover more people at a reasonable price than the status quo at the time, but without subsidies, the middle class struggled to afford rising premiums. The GOP’s nod toward providing cheaper healthcare is even worse, rationing people out of the insurance market while hoping that insurance companies will eventually roll out cheaper, “bare bones” plans that cover very little. What gives?

While Trump might not have realized how complex fixing healthcare could be, pretty much everyone else had some idea. What people may not fully realize is that the private sector isn’t as virtuously free of the kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse that are cynically attributed only to government. Putting a dent in these money pits would go a long way towards bringing cheaper healthcare to desperate people.

Trump Bemoans A Complicated Healthcare System, by Wochit News

Did you know that hospitals throw away billions of dollars worth of perfectly good stuff every year? In 2012, American health care providers piddled away more value in equipment, supplies, and medicine, than it took to fund the entire Defense Department budget. Everything from unopened, unexpired catheter tubes to $400 unopened boxes of suture material to gently used anesthesia machines and wheelchairs regularly goes out in the hospital trash. Why? When a surgery is finished or a patient leaves the hospital, sometimes everything associated with that event or visit is purged straightaway. Sometimes equipment is replaced before the previous machine is broken or outdated. When someone passes away, there’s no reason to keep their stuff, so it all goes out the door.

In Maine, Elizabeth McLellan, a registered nurse, grew so disgusted by the waste in her industry that she started warehousing it instead. Doctors and nurses at rural hospitals with smaller budgets dream of getting their hands on big city castoffs. McLellan also sends full shipping containers of these treasures overseas to places like Syria and Greece. Can you imagine how wonderful it is to receive full, unopened boxes of gauze when you usually have to carefully wash and dry old gauze that poverty forces you to use over and over? It’s good that some of the perfectly functional items we throw away find uses elsewhere, but if we avoided throwing them away in the first place, the National Academy of Medicine estimates we could cover both the employer and employee contributions to insure 150 million Americans. Wow.

Reducing hospital waste isn’t the only way for us to save a buck and provide cheaper healthcare. We also lose millions of dollars to middlemen. Insurance company CEOs take home millions of dollars every year. A 2015 industry analysis by the Associated Press/Equilar found that American health care company executives had the highest median CEO pay of any industry. No one begrudges workers a decent salary, but come on! What did the CEO of UnitedHealth do in 2014 that was worth over $66 million? Could that money have been better spent on providing medical care to sick people?

Single payer healthcare may significantly reduce costs associated with middlemen as well as the time and effort needed to fill out paperwork for a plethora of different insurers with different requirements. Sure, opponents will say that cutting out the efficient private sector means increased costs because government can’t do anything right, to which I might respond by pointing at the shipping containers of perfectly good medical equipment thrown away by the private sector every year.

We need a healthcare system that works for everyday Americans, not just one that works well for funneling resources upward into CEO pockets and outward as waste. Even the conservative outlet Newsmax agrees that we have some of the most expensive care with worse outcomes than many other countries. When Americans have to crowdsource their medical bills in the hopes that their charismatic photo and amateur internet marketing tricks make it rain enough money to save their lives, something is rotten.

Let’s clean up the systemic wastefulness first. Then, we can talk about how to ration the cheaper healthcare supply, whether by need, or by pricing the neediest out of healthcare altogether.

Related: Drug Copay Clawbacks are a Silent Scam

Sources:

What Hospitals Waste
The Real Peril Of Crowdfunding Health Care
Congressional Budget Office To Estimate Cost Of GOP Health Care Bill
Why A Government-Run, Single-Payer Healthcare Approach Is Doomed To Fail
UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley made more than $66 million in 2014
US Healthcare Worst in Developed World: Report

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