Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Health care costs – have we picked all the low hanging fruit? By Kate Benson

Health care costs – have we picked all the low hanging fruit?

By Kate Benson / Reporting on Health
April 15, 2012

In an era of "modern" medicine it sometimes seems as if many of the
biggies have been knocked out compared to centuries past. The
previously untreatable has become treatable and in many cases
preventable. Tuberculosis? Check. AIDS? Check. Heart disease? Check.
And with knowledge can come lower societal costs as well as health
care cost containment.

But what about patients with rarer or more complex or even contested
diseases where researchers have very different viewpoints and
ideological stances leading to highly conflicting literature and
research funds are distributed unevenly between the different points
of view?

What about diseases where the usual prescription, whether behavioral
or pharmaceutical, isn't effective even if it may be "cost effective?"
What about the indirect economic costs associated with rising
disability linked to diseases we don't yet know how to treat
effectively in the majority of cases?

In, "CFS: One Disease and Its Costs," PBS broadcaster Llewellyn King
ledes with, "What would happen to health care if a million new
patients with just one of many now incurable and largely untreated
diseases flooded the system, relying on medicine that could cost
$70,000?" Mr. King argues that this might not be a bad thing. (The
current cost to the U.S. economy is estimated at $25 billion annually
for direct medical costs and lost productivity.)

Although Mr. King addresses one relatively rare disease where the
"usual" isn't working very well, there are many others such as Gulf
War Illness, atypical MS, Lyme Disease or the autism spectrum for
example.

Are they at the top of most journalists' list to write about given the
smaller populations they effect and how complicated and polarized the
topic may be? Probably not, but these diseases, like cancer and AIDS
before them, they may be bell weathers of where health policy and
medicine are failing and where both the costs and the human toll are
rising.

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