The slow information drip about VA hospitals continues. Today, the media are reporting on a “scathing report” from Richard J. Griffin, the acting inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs, confirming that VA administrators “manipulated medical waiting lists at one and possibly more hospitals” and that “1,700 patients at the veterans medical center in Phoenix were not placed on the official waiting list for doctors’ appointments and may never have received care.” Griffin suggests a reason for this: “that the falsified data may have led to more favorable performance reviews for hospital personnel.” So for these hospital personnel, who are immune from patient malpractice lawsuits by the way, inflicting illness, injuries and death on patients was worth it for the performance review.
Meanwhile, there’s a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services finding that in one year (2010), Medicare wasted $6.7 billion paying doctors for “health care visits that were improperly coded or lacked documentation.” Writes USA Today, “That's 21% of Medicare's total budget for diagnostic and assessment visits.” More specifically, “56% of claims for those high-coding physicians were incorrect, with 99% being up-coded in the provider's favor.” Meanwhile, doctors have started cashing in on the latest medical craze – prescription drug abuse – by billing Medicare for excessive blood and urine tests where guidelines are “vague.” Reports Reuters, “three Connecticut doctors billed Medicare for nearly 24,000 drug tests in 2012 - on just 145 patients.”
“In some parts of the country every doctor and his cousin is hanging out a shingle to do (addiction) treatment. There’s a tailor-made opportunity for ordering a profusion of tests instead of one,” said Bill Mahon, former executive director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association.
“It’s like turning on a spigot of money,” he said.
Clearly, there is real fraud and abuse going on in health care today, costing substantial money and lives. Health care quality is not just a VA problem. It’s a national problem. The latest statistics show that medical errors, most of which are preventable, are the third leading cause of death in America. The cost of injuries to families and to the health care system is likely near $1 trillion dollars annually.
The political priorities of health care providers are completely messed up. The insurance and medical lobbies have effectively turned the issue of health care quality and medical malpractice on its head, so that policymakers treat medical malpractice primarily as if doctors and their insurers were the victims of it, instead of the hundreds of thousand of patients who wind up dead or injured each year. This is well-reflected in the number of medical malpractice laws that have passed around the country, virtually all of which are designed to weaken the liability and accountability of health care providers – and to make malpractice insurers excessively profitable. (See our recent post here.)
And if you doubt that continues to be true, just look what’s going on in California where there’s a ballot initiative to increase (for inflation - not even to eliminate) the state’s 35-year-old cap on compensation for patients harmed by medical negligence. It would also create drug and alcohol testing for doctors to address a huge safety problem. Seventy-one percent of Californian’s support this common sense initiative. But the medical and insurance lobbies have already raised $33 million to defeat it - while consumer proponents have raised a tiny fraction of that.
(Don't they realize - if this passes and they are already bilking Medicare for excessive drug and alcohol testing, the new business opportunities are endless!)