In the Senate and the House, rousing debate is now going on (or will be again when they return) on various aspects of bringing health care insurance into the 21st Century. One bitter difference involves bringing down costs. Democrats claim that substantial cost savings can be realized by nationalizing medical records so as to minimize duplicating tests and treatments. They also believe that ways can be found to reduce hospital administrative costs. I agree.

       As an 87 year old senior citizen who visits many  Doctors’ offices and periodically undergoes hospital medical  procedures, I have personally witnessed some damnably wasteful practices. For the most part, these are it’ty-bit’ty mistakes, but I am a single individual. Multiply the waste in time and labor of each error I experience, and multiply that by millions of hospital visits, and you will say, “Huge sums of public money are being frittered away.”

       Whenever I visit a Doctor for the first time, I am given several sheets to fill out. They need my name, address, telephone number and  e-mail address. They also need my age, date of birth, height, weight, Social Security number, supplementary insurance policy number, the name and address of the supplementary insurer, the name and phone number of my General Practitioner and an emergency contact name and phone number. There’s more. Have I ever had cancer, a heart attack, diabetes, a stroke, major surgery, etc.?  I need to list the medications I am taking , strength and frequency of use. I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t remember it all.

       Since I recognize the need for this information, I do not begrudge the Doctor the 30 minutes to fill out these forms.  I deeply resent  that, when I visit another  Doctor the following week, I must spend another half-hour filling out essentially the same forms.A waste of time but, since it is my time, there is no financial cost to doctors, Medicare and insurance companies. Fortunately , when I again visit  the same Doctor, he doesn’t  require that I duplicate my clerical efforts.

       Not true when I register in a hospital. I have recently visited St.Vincent Catholic Medical Center  in New York at least eight or ten times for medical procedures. The forms I am asked to fill are similar to those in  Doctors’ offices, but with one major difference. Each time I am admitted to St. Vincent, they require that I  fill out the same form. Complaining to the Nurse avails me nothing. “We are only following procedure.” I point out that this is costing the Hospital extra money in paper, ink and the Nurse’s time. At the Hospital,  it is not just my wasted time; there is a continuing extra cost to the Hospital. It is an it’ty- bit’ty expenditure, but multiply that by the very large number of patients they service, and the it’ty-bit’ties pile up. Multiply that  total by the number of hospitals in the Country using similar wasteful procedures,  and you have a significant sum.

       It gets worse. I am a member of Medicare, I also carry a supplementary policy covering pretty much everything that Medicare fails to cover. When I sign in at St.Vincent, I write down both my Medicare number and the supplementary insurance company’s name, address , phone number and my policy number.  Invariably, a couple of weeks later, I get a Hospital bill advising me that Medicare has paid a certain amount and that I still owe them the balance –– a balance which my supplementary policy insurance always covers.  

       I then phone the Hospital billing office and explain the situation.  The clerk takes time to look up my record, takes time to write down my supplementary policy information, checks to see that all is O.K. and then takes time to correct the record.  A waste of time and money. Estimate a loss of  30 minutes at at least $10.00 per hour. This does not include the cost of. sending me the bill and, if I don’t phone back quickly, the cost of sending a duplicate bill. Another waste of at least $10.00. Money unnecessarily thrown out. Again, multiply this $20.00 cost by the number of patient in the same situation and multiply again by the number of hospitals with similar slipshod practices. 

       These are just small unnecessary costs with which I personally am familiar. I suspect that these are the tip of the iceberg, and that many other examples of inefficiency and waste exist.What are the losses countrywide?  One hundred thousand dollars.? Half a million dollars? All for it’ty bit’ty errors.

       Costly inefficiencies are not limited to hospitals. More egregious ones can be found among insurance companies. My wife is a member of the Health Incurance Plan of Greater New York (HIP). Her monthly premium is $775.00.  Payments are regularly made by my bank five days before each due date, plenty of time to reach their office.  Almost every month, I get  a three-page letter advising me that the payment is overdue.  I promptly phone the billing inquiries office to check.  Usually,  I’m told that payment has been received. Sometimes, I’m told that they do not yet have a record of my payment, but not to worry. “The company post office is stacked up.” The billing screwup at the Hospital is only three or four times a year. The wasteful office, paper and mailing costs at HIP occur monthly.. At least ten times as much money is wasted  annually. I repeatedly ask HIP to fix this problem but get nowhere. I am sure I would get a similar dismissal at other insurance companies.

       I am certain that my it’ty-bit’ty waste is multiplied ten  thousandfold by other examples of a waste in the medical and insurance industries.

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