Prescription for health care costs: More efficiency, fewer narcotics

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

In the midst of the national name-calling among politicians over health care comes a report from the Institute of Medicine stating that the U.S. health care system squanders about 30 cents of every medical dollar through unneeded care, Byzantine paperwork, fraud and other waste, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The report estimated that the annual $750 billion squandered is equal to more than 10 years of Medicare cuts in Obama’s health care law. It’s more than the Pentagon budget.

The report came from an 18-member panel of prominent experts, including doctors, business people, and public officials.

If banking worked like health care, ATM transactions would take days, they said. If home building were like health care, carpenters, electricians and plumbers would work from different blueprints and hardly talk to each other. And if shopping were like health care, prices would not be posted and could vary widely within the same store, depending on who was paying.

Meanwhile, here in Alabama, state health officer Dr. Donald Williamson, who also is the acting head of Medicaid, addressed a joint legislative committee on Medicaid, which also needs to save money. One of his statistics was startling.

In Alabama, population 4.8 million, there are 1.4 million controlled substance prescriptions filled every month. If no one in Alabama had more than one of those prescriptions, 35 percent of the population would have have Lortab, Oxycontin. or other highly addictive prescription drugs. Unfortunately, many users and abuses have more than one monthly prescription. The numbers would suggest that doctors overprescribe the narcotics, and that Alabamians have a problem.

Not all of those prescriptions are filled by patients on Medicaid. But Williamson said of the 3,100 patients in Medicaid who had six or more doctors prescribe them narcotics, 2,000 were substance abusers.

That’s a small drop in the Medicaid budget, but it’s a good place to start with cuts, not just for Medicaid but for health care overall.

Getting health care costs better controlled is one of the keys to reducing the federal deficit, and improving the budget situation in Alabama.