Swallowing a 'Bitter Pill'

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz
The best med aides I've ever seen have an almost spooky knack for getting nursing home residents to take their medicine. It's an art form, really. A mystical mix of command, humor and good, old-fashioned charm.

That's who we need right now, one of those magic med aides to help America swallow “Bitter Pill,” the recent Time magazine article that follows the money to reveal why we pay so much for healthcare. As happens often in our attention-deficit society, the 24,105-word piece by journalist Stephen Brill created a furious fuss and then pretty much disappeared. It seems the nation tipped back its little medicine cup, swished the information around a bit and then spit it back out.

To be clear, I'm thinking and talking here as a volatile, underinsured consumer, not as a healthcare writer, and certainly not as a long-term care billing expert. But the piece upset me like few things do, and I even took it out on an innocent hospital account representative. After discovering I owed an obscene amount of money for a service I know costs pennies on the dollar, I asked if she had read the article. She hadn't — and I'm sure she won't. It's not her job to understand, and in fact, she can probably do it better if she doesn't.

To state the understated obvious, healthcare is a complicated, overwhelming, often indecipherable topic. On the one hand, here's the clearest graphic you've probably ever seen that purports to show why everything is so expensive. And on the other, here's some aggressive pushback from critic Chris Conover and from the hospital industry itself. But without getting pulled into the weeds on one side or the other, we can still be the better for this stark dose of illumination and dissent. 

Because everybody loses when a system as large and interconnected as healthcare is revealed, or even implied, to be rigged and opportunistic. Clearly, its unchecked complexities, frustrations and inequities have helped make providers across the spectrum, even in long-term care, feel justified in getting all they can from whomever they can. But as people become more educated and responsible for their own mounting expenses, the suspicion now falling mostly on rates for doctors, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and hospital services will make all healthcare sectors seem guilty by association.

Like all healthcare entities are or will, we're facing the perfect storm of ethics, economics and a consumer demand for unprecedented transparency. Let's take our medicine and act accordingly. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.


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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.