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Bob McMillan- Health care issues

September 12, 2008 @ 12:00 am EDT


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Our speaker today was Robert McMillan.  McMillan, until June of this year, served on the board of the American Medical Association.  McMillan began by giving us some pretty stagering numbers on the cost of health care. He stated that it was the largest segment of the economy at $2.2trillion, yet there are 18,000 deaths that are directly attributable to having no access to health care. It costs $100 billion just to provide for the uninsured. There is another $20 billion that is donated services by doctors, and still another $20 billion on medical services that are simply written off. In short, according  to McMillan, we have an excellent system in terms of advanced medicine, that is failing to serve the whole population.

The cost of healthcare has increased 87% from 2000 to 2007, and the number of uninsured has balloned. He then went into some of the reasons why the cost have risen. One of the reasons is the costly new analytical tools and machinery for diagnosis and care. McMillan stated that every medical facility wants to have all of the latest equipment, even when the equipment exists at another hospital a short distance away. Another cost factor is the ability to keep the hopelessly ill "alive" when there is absolutely no chance of recovery, or ever gaining consiousness.

There are so many facets to this problem. The medical costs dictates to the general economy in many ways. Bob stated that the steel in an automobile actually costs less than medical insurance costs for the assemblers. There are 300,000 medical bankrupcies each year, and some of these bankrupcies are with people that actually have insurance. He went on to say that Medicare will be broke in 20 years and as these costs escalate, the period of Medicare solvency may even be shorter.

While both presidential candidates are speaking about health care, the solving of this cost and availability problem is enormously complex. To be considered are the interests of the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies, the trial lawyers, and the legitimate needs of the public. None of these interests are going to sacrifice anything voluntarily.

When Mr. McMillan discussed medical malpractice he pointed out that 80% of all medical lawsuits were dismissed. Despite that statistic, medical malpractice insurance costs have caused many doctors to simply retire rather than deal with the enormous costs which he stated could be $200,000 per year. During the Q&A period I asked if the malpracice insurance problem could be mitigated by having a no-fault compensation system that would be similar to workers compensation.  McMillan said that this topic is among the many tasks he tackled while on the AMA board. Medical Compensation is not supported by the trial lawyers and they have a very powerful voice in congress. He didn’t hold out much hope for that item. It appears that the 100 year dicussion on universal health care, which was first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt, will go on a little longer. All things considered the resolution looks bleak.

Pictured: Bill Miller, Bob McMillan, Phoebe McMillan and Ernie Fazio