Informed Consumers Can Cut Health Care Costs

Article excerpt

Who do you believe pays for the rising cost of health care? Insurance companies, employers, the U.S. government? You are wrong. We all pay - through higher insurance premiums, reduced wages, higher taxes, higher prices.

As the daughter and sister of physicians, I have spent a lifetime observing the medical profession. Our culture has shrouded it in a mystique that is seldom justified. Now, we are forced to ask: Can we afford it? And the cause of our dilemma may be your unquestioning acceptance of both the care and its cost.

America's health care system, already the world's most expensive, is getting more expensive each year. Why? The population is aging. Medical technology has become vastly more complex and is more widely used. The government isn't paying its share. And malpractice lawsuits have gotten out of hand. Yet, the major cause of increased costs may be that Americans are not very astute consumers of health care.

There is little the average person can do about an aging population. Getting the government to pay more and reforming tort law will take time because both involve the slow-moving legislative and judicial processes. You can, however, adopt a personal life style that reduces health hazards - and make yourself increasingly informed before you enter the health care market.

``A lot of people believe health care is too complex. They can't possibly know the difference between good value and bad value,'' said Dr. Howard Bailit, vice president of health care management at Aetna Life & Casualty. ``In fact, by asking good questions and making an honest evaluation of their relationship with their doctors and their hospitals, consumers can make the system better.''

A sure-fire sign of a good patient/provider relationship is a free flow of information. ``That means, when an operation, medication or test is prescribed, a patient should be able to talk to his doctor about the chance of success, the possibility of adverse side effects and, within reasonable estimates, how much it will cost,'' Dr. Bailit said.

Few health care encounters require snap life-and-death decisions. More often, decision-making involves chronic illnesses or conditions that allow time for physicians and patients to discuss treatment alternatives and their likely outcomes. …