What the Health Care Debate Still Gets Wrong

Adam Gaffney in the Boston Review:

In the spring of 2009, with the battle over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in full swing, President Barack Obama called his aides into the oval office for an unusual meeting. As the New York Times reported, the topic of conversation was a recent New Yorker essay titled the “The Cost Conundrum.” It was written by the Harvard surgeon and writer Atul Gawande, now the CEO of Haven—the new Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan Chase health care venture. His influential story—“required reading in the White House,” the Times called it—described a journey down into the heart of health care darkness: McAllen, Texas, a poor city at the southern tip of the state with some of the highest health care spending in the nation.

What was the root of McAllen’s high costs—and, by extension, of all of ours? Gawande quickly cracks the case. “There is overutilization here,” a general surgeon tells him during the trip, “pure and simple.” Patients went to the doctor too often, had too many operations, spent too much time at the hospital, and received too many days of home care. “The primary cause of McAllen’s extreme costs,” Gawande concludes, “was, very simply, the across-the-board overuse of medicine.”

More here.