Critical Condition : How Health Care in America Became Big Business--and Bad Medicine
Exposing the most controversial, little-known practices of America's most flawed system, Time magazine's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team pulls back the curtain on the health care industry to explain exactly how things grew so out of control. Dirty examination and operating rooms in doctor's offices and hospitals . . . Health care executives pulling in millions in bonuses for denying treatment to the sick . . . More than 100 million people with inadequate or no medical coverage . . . This may sound like the predicament of a third-world nation, but this is America's health care reality today. The U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation, yet our benefits are shrinking and life expectancy is shorter here than in countries that spend significantly less per capita. Meanwhile, HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital chains reap tremendous profits, while politicians-beholden to insurers and drug companies-enact legislation for the benefit of the few rather than the many, while the entire system is on the verge of collapse.
Bestselling investigative journalists Barlett and Steele (America: What Went Wrong ) deliver a devastating indictment, supported by excellent research, of a health-care system that they say is failing to provide first-rate services to its citizens, 44 million of whom are without insurance. According to these Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, now with Time magazine, the U.S. compares poorly with other Westernized nations in delivering quality care and a healthy life expectancy, and preventing infant mortality. Per capita health-care spending continues to exceed the amount spent by many other countries, the authors say, because one out of every three U.S. dollars pays for administrative costs. The authors also present case histories of patients, some with life-threatening conditions, who were ignored by bureaucratic HMOs that put profit first. Barlett and Steele describe how health care first became driven by profits on Wall Street during the Reagan administration. Competing insurance plans, they say, led not to better choices for consumers, but to physicians who are prevented by insurers from prescribing needed treatments; a severe shortage of nurses; and unsafe hospitals where staff shortages and unsanitary conditions result from cost-cutting. The authors, who strongly advocate a single payer plan, successfully depict a health-care system in crisis. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (On sale Oct. 5) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 08, 2005
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Excerpt from Critical Condition by Donald L. Barlett
A Second-Rate System
It was billed as a ' Garage Sale for Mason. ' By the time all the donations had come in, no garage could hold them. So the clothes, toys, old appliances, tools, car accessories ' everything ' were loaded onto a church moving van and carted to an open lot next to the Heartland Furniture store on the south side of town. Volunteers marked every item with white price tags, then spread them out in the lot in row after row for the big event Saturday. Nobody had any idea how many would come, but when the gates opened, people poured in, and for hours neighbors, friends, and passersby flowed through to buy something and to say hello to the six-year-old boy in whose name the event was held.
Mason McIlnay was just completing kindergarten in Salem, Oregon, when doctors discovered that he had neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer that already had spread to his bone marrow. He had been troubled by pain at night, and at first his doctor thought he might have just pulled a muscle. A CT scan turned up the cancer. Over the next two months, Mason would be in and out of the hospital for surgery, chemotherapy, and treatment of infections and side effects, as he battled a famously virulent cancer. His medical expenses ran into the tens of thousands of dollars.
It was a bill that Mason ' s parents, Les and Gina McIlnay, could not afford to pay. They had no health insurance. As employees of the family flower shop, with a computer and video business on the side, they felt they just couldn ' t afford it. ' You never consider that something like this would ever happen to you, ' said Les.
Friends and neighbors of the McIlnays got together to organize a fund-raiser for the family. Everyone pitched in, searching basements, storage bins, and closets to donate something for the ' Garage Sale for Mason. ' That afternoon they raised $14,000. Another fund-raiser at a car show brought in $9,000. The McIlnays were humbled. Les said he had ' never seen an event like it. ' A Cub Scout leader and a volunteer along with Gina at their boys ' school, Les was used to helping, not needing help, so the outpouring from the community was all the more remarkable. While the proceeds from the two events certainly eased the couple ' s financial burden, the McIlnays still had thousands of dollars in medical expenses outstanding.
Every weekend in neighborhoods across America, fund-raisers like this help collect money to pay someone ' s medical bills. They may be for a teenager who has a serious sports injury, a young mother who isn ' t covered by her husband ' s insurance policy, a victim of a catastrophic illness whose insurance has run out ' anyone who has been blindsided by the overwhelming expenses of an unexpected major medical problem. These fund-raisers take many forms: auctions, walkathons, concerts, pancake breakfasts, bingo games, pie socials, car washes, barbecues, basketball competitions, church suppers, dances, and hot-air balloon rides.