American Morning

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February 26th, 2010
03:00 PM ET

Next week: Health care – Prescription for waste?

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen takes a closer look at waste in the health care system and how it may be costing you.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen takes a closer look at waste in the health care system and how it may be costing you.

By Skylar Srivastava, CNN

(CNN) – Next week in an American Morning original series, "Health care: Prescription for waste," we examine more waste in the health care system – and this time it could involve your money.

With the health care system in crisis and Congress trying to work out a solution, your health spending budget could still be going through the roof. What if it was simply a matter of careless book-keeping or an inefficient claims process, would you take the time to find out? On Monday, CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen shows us just how expensive some medical accessories can be and whether you’re getting slammed with bogus bills.

We’ll also be shopping around for a medical procedure. You already do it for vacations and real estate, what about comparison shopping for a hernia repair? Will hospitals really tell you what it will cost? On Tuesday, we’ll take you through the ropes.

Is parenthood in your near future? For new parents this could be a shocker. The way you have your baby delivered could save you an extra two thousand dollars, and that could help you buy those diapers you’ll be needing. Wednesday, Elizabeth Cohen will tell you the exact dollars and “sense,” and why you should be planning a lot more than just a pregnancy.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Edward

    Elizabeth,

    You stated in your report that Hospitals excused away these excessive charges on other unrelated hospital – like the electric bill and equipment. When I go to a Rite-Aide Pharmacy, who charges more for stuff than say a Wal-Mart, but they have all of the things a Hospital would have to carry. Rite-Aide has to pay for an Electric Bill, and all other utilities, and they have to pay for upkeep on their building, perhaps a lease if they don't own the building. They also have to pay for employees, equipment, and if it is franchised a certain percentage to the corporate headquarters for carrying their name – they pay for all of this without any government subsidies I might add. Now I can go in a Rite-Aide and buy a toothbrush for $3 or $4, so why again is the Hospital's excusing the prices they charge? I believe if you have a doctor, surgeon, or nurse do anything for you while you are in the hospital; they charge you separately for those charges in addition to the $1000 toothbrushes – so why does it cost that much if it doesn't cost that much at a Rite-Aide, who, like most places of business, have associated cost with doing business? Their excuse doesn't hold up, and why aren't you calling them on it?

    Thanks,
    Ed Winfrey

    March 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  2. Severn

    Who is looking at taxes paid by middle-class/working poor/seniors that support a generous healthcare plan for every member of Congress, political appointees, and government employees? All this phony jousting and rhetoric in Washington is a show staged for our benefit – because they are all united on one effort: Congress isn't about to relinquish any tax-paid benefit or perk Americans are paying for, nor will it impose any rules on any insurance company that contributes to political campaigns.

    March 4, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  3. RonM

    I do believe that there could be higher C-section rates due to convinience factors but the bigger influence is the 19 year liability the OB/GYN incurs while delivering a baby. How many advertisements by the legal profession do you see asking for potential cases of complications due to childbirth on TV these days?!?! Erb's Palsy, developmental delays, etc, etc.
    In terms of the amount of medical waste in current healthcare, yes, there is duplication, waste and inefficiency. But, for your medical consultant to simply state that the solution is to redefine the culture with physicians and patients is overly simplistic. Defensive medicine occurs, and will continue to occur, until appropriate tort reform is universal where we, as physicians do not feel we are under the microscope of the Medicare, commercial insurance companies and most importantly, the legal community looking for opportunistic exploitation of hard working physicians who in general are trying to do what's right for their patient. Next time, address the frivilous litagation and governmental micromanagement (aka healthcare rationing) in your healthcare segment and celebrate the physicians who actually are still ethically and compassionately caring for their patients in the thick of healthcare reform that truly does not directly impact us in the end here on the front lines of medicine.

    March 3, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  4. CurtisB

    My Point exactly Gretchen , If the administrators and CEOs did not demand such outrages salaries, that is part of the socalled fixed costs. I went to the hospital for out patient surgery, that lasted about one hour and left the hospital 12 hours later and the charge was in excess of $57,000 the Surgeon charged another $8500 That should take care of a lot of overhead???

    I did not see an itimized statement, but I know I had no blood,, drugs and no meals. just MY BP and Temp taken about 6 times.

    March 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  5. Gretchen Flynn

    Yes, the charges for gloves, toothbrushes, etc. are outrageous. But you are doing your viewers a disservice by not focusing on what it actually costs a hospital to treat a patient. How do they pay and charge for overhead and fixed costs? What about the building, heat, electricity, salaries etc. Are hospitals recouping these costs by charging patients the inflated costs for individual items? Should we instead charge people for their fair share of the use of the hospital?

    Please look into what it actually costs to run a hospital and how it is paid for.

    March 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  6. CurtisB

    Healthcare reform will remain impossible until all the ostriches in Washington pull their heads out of the sand and admit the real problems. First someone needs to oversee/justify the charges of medical services, supplies etc.. IE $57,000 charges for less than 10 hours in hospital as outpatient, ...$1500 for hearing aids that have less than $10 in component costs, $240 for 1 Tylynol Tablet.

    At one time most Hospital Insurance plans set a specified amount they would pay for any given procedure..

    At one time any CEO or company president would be happy to make $100,00 per year, now it seems the norm for that to be Millions.

    At one time people were happy to have a doctor or hospital to help them, now it is the norm to try to find a way to sue.

    Most of the exorbitant lawsuits are realistic to only the attorneys.

    IN SHORT, SET LIMITS ON MEDICAL CHARGES THAT ARE JUSTIFYABLE,, STOP THE FRIVOLOUS LAW SUITS,, and SET SALARY LIMITS THAT ARE AT LEAST REASONABLE, NOT A SOUL IN THE WORLD IS WORTH OVER A MILLION DOLLARS. THE AVERAGE BUE FAMILY WOULD MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS IN A LIFETIME.

    March 2, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  7. Phania

    What is the incentive for me to shop for cheaper care when I get no discount on my insurance premium? I never see the invoices for months after the providers have been paid. Let me see the invoices before the providers are paid to pre approve the payments. That would slow the money churn down. Then we could really see what it costs.

    March 2, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  8. Will

    Why not follow the Hawaiian model. It has been around for 40 years, citizens seem happy with it\. Why can't it be implemented at the federal level?

    March 2, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  9. Kevin Epstein, M.D.

    There are very few hospitals making any money. Most operate on an operating budget of <2%. These high prices offset extremely low reimbursement from medicare, medicaid and to a lesser extent commercial payors (not to mention uncompensated care). While I am not justifying them, I understand where they are coming from. Is there waste? Of course there is. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and specialists are making money hand over fist at the expense of primary care and patients. Increasing access to primary care by increasing reimbursement to them, thereby luring more graduates to go into primary care, is ultimately save more money than any of the other proposals out there.

    March 2, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  10. Lanny Sanford

    we all know most of American people do not have health care we have to understand our children should come first my wife Anne Christophe would like to start a free HIV and Aids hospital here in USA for children if I can get Anne Home from Bamako Mali Anne went down to Mali withLutheran Missionaries I should have make lutheran missionaries put a airplane ticket in my hands when Anne got kidnap the lutheran missionaries came home with out Anne and I had to call department of state they told me to France Emassy and Anne has two citizen UScitizen the Doctor in G National Hospital take of HIV and Aids our Doctors and Nurses should not listen to our churches or missionaries because they do not care about American

    March 2, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  11. Yenta

    At age 63+ I finally had to give up my health insurance due to the cost. I tried to get cheaper insurance with a high deductible and was rejected due to the prior diagnosed conditions of acid reflux and osteoporosis. That means the insurance company doing these routine rejections basically is excluding all women over 55 most of whom have these conditions. The only way to fix this situation and save money is single payer. Unfortunately, Obama has not fought for that and whatever is passed will only have to be redone because nothing but single payer will reduce health care costs.

    The young must pay for the old and the sick must pay for the well. Every other advance country does this. The Republicans want the market to solve this? Suppose someone had cancer 10 years ago and applies for insurance. Suppose the health insurance companies are barred from rejecting anyone based on prior conditions. So, what happens? They offer you health insurance for $20,000 a month? They raise everyone's premiums to cover the cancer survivor–and premiums are already out of sight.

    If you don't get health insurance through your job, you cannot get anything–even with a huge deductible–that is remotely affordable.

    I am gambling with bankruptcy if I get sick, but the only one making money off my health insurance was the insurance company.

    Keep your fingers crossed for me. I have 19 months to go to Medicare and counting down. I can't wait to have reasonable health inurance again–and nothing in any of the legislation before the Congress promises me any relief before I turn 65.

    March 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  12. Carole Bishop

    Americans do not trust our government and feel that Washington is totally out of touch with the reality tax payers experience, consequently, they feel Washington governemnt should be...on the same Health Care programs tax payers are on..Medicare, suppliment policies, cost of living increases etc., for them to make honest, common sense decisions that will truely benefit all tax payers!

    March 1, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  13. Sherry Speights

    Ten years ago,I had a Ceasarean Section and was receiving a bill for
    an enormous amount of money(which they claimed my insurance would not cover).I saw this bill come to my home about 3 times before I finally decided to sit down and actually see what the charge was for. It was for the anesthesia procedure that I received.I didn't think about this right away but then later I remembered seeing a notice from my insurer listing all the things they covered (which included this procedure).So I had to look for the notice that I received from my
    insurer and the last bill I received from the hospital. It wasn't until then I realized the hospital charged me twice. According to my insurer, I had the procedure on the day that I indeed had my son,while according to the hospital,they charged me for a procedure that they claimed was done 5 days later(the day I was discharged).
    It only took 2 weeks before the hospital stopped sending me the bill & corrected their claim. I think because I actually looked at the bill & challenged them on it along with my insurance company.

    March 1, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  14. Jim in KC

    Most of the examples provided around crazy health care costs (example:. the $100 tylenol) will only get worse and drive costs higher when you add 33 million people to these abusive practices. The hospital didn't even try a $50 generic, and the insurance companies aren't staffed to verify the fees being charged are real or imagined.

    Costs, and overall reform, are not what's front and center in the new health care bill. Abuse of the system is the issue for health care in america. The abuses in the current system, coupled with the 3-5 year delay in the bill taking full effect, leaves the door wide open for lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians to game the "new" health care system. It's an honor among thieves mentality. Trust me, theft will continue and on a much grander scale. Try fixing the "core problems" in the health care system when it grows to it's new levels under this bill. We're (main street) doomed.

    Would this bill pass as it's written today, reconciliation or straight up vote, if the politicians who vote it into law could be held libel for the results of the bill in the next five years? Where's the accountability? Why don't we track results vs. promises?

    Why doesn't CNN spend more time doing truly investigative and informative news? You can still maintain your allegiance to your political affiliations and vantage points, just investigate/report your allies with the same vigor you investigate/report your counterparts.Stop sipping the kool-aid... "your either part of the solution or part of the problem, but an active participant to both"

    March 1, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  15. Joseph Daniel Brian Lawlor

    Connie..those hospitals deserving of a bad rap. Easy to see where you stand and who you serve here girl. If any part of the inflated prices is correct that bad wrap deserving from this perspective. I do not expect Media to get it all right in the early stages of development but I do expect them not to get it all wrong.

    March 1, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  16. Mel Modderman

    To say that this report was sloppy journalism would be to give it a compliment. Charges for health care services are indeed a problem. But the problem is not clarified by this report. What costs must the health care facility cover when it set a charge for tylenol or some other medical item – ordering the item, receiving it, storing it, when a provider orders it for a patient recording the order in the patient's record and then in a medication administration record, having a pharmacist verify that the right drug is sent, having a nurse document the administration to the patient. So there are a lot of costs we want the facility to deal with and we better acknowledge them if we want quality health care. Next, who pays the amount charged? Not the indigent patient, someone else pays for him/her; not the Medicaid patient for whom the state pays only 60-70 percent of the cost not the charge; not Medicare for whom the program pays only 70-80 percent of the cost; so maybe private insurance will pay the cost plus a part of the unpaid cost from these others. Nobody pays the charge so lets get a story that brings some light not just sensationalism. This is why we must have HealthCare Reform now, to begin to straighten out this mess. The current version of the bill (Senate) makes a big start on these issues. It can be improved prior to passing, but pass it now.

    March 1, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  17. Meryl Barr

    The "health care" in this country is anything but health care. The entire system is corrupt with pharmaceutical companies charging exorbitant prices for their medications which the majority of Americans can do without. The problem is the masses rely solely on what their doctors tell them. We have an epidemic of unhealthy people, overweight, medicated to the hilt, an unwillingly to change just about anything until they have their own personal crisis. I am not talking about catastrophic circumstances where one has no choice but to seek hospital care. But come on, look around you, how many healthy people do you actually see? Why doesn't Obama implement health programs in schools, insist upon and have healthy meals available for all children in schools, not fast food garbage, why not have juicers in nursing homes offering the sick and elderly a nourishing alternative to institutionalized food which is devoid of any nutrients and tastes awful? Nothing will change until we put a stop to the greed and corruption surrounding the entire health care system, from pharmaceutical companies that get richer by the minute pumping out one drug after another, unscrupulous and unethical doctors over prescribing meds to their patients who for many don't need them. I can go on and on but will stop here. I will leave with saying that if one does not take responsibility for their own health and leave it for the so called medical professionals, we are doomed.

    March 1, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  18. Jessica Hines

    I do believe that it is a good idea to check medical bills and ensure that there are no mistakes, but I caution you about siding the American people against hospital and doctors. As a physician who owns my own small practice, I can ensure you that our charges are correct, but insurance and patient copays barely cover our expenses. We accept all insurance carriers including Medicare and Medicaid, but are re-examining that decision due to propsed Medicare cuts. Physicians are not rich as people believe and anyone who has chosen this field in the last 15 years is aware of that. We have over $150,000 in loans upon graduation and have spent all of our early adulthood in school or training when our other friends started working and have 401Ks. We have chosen this field to help people, but, I am not sure that the financial rewards make it worth it anymore. Video game designers, financial planners, some drug representatives, insurance company management/executives all make more than we do with much less personal sacrifice and responsibility. That is not right. I want people to remember their personal physicians in all of this or there may be enough of us left when you need one.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  19. Joseph Daniel Brian Lawlor

    Owen,,there are primary answers and secondary answers. The secondary lacks the fullness of truth while the primary delivers the fullness of truth. Give Media the time to develop their primary which in fact is ongoing and a work in progress but expect the secondary for some time yet.

    Health care costs....terrorists within the nation that are not seen for who they are and what they do to the Peoples. Inflating prices seen as well as the fraud that goes unchecked and sanctioned by leaderships.

    I agree Allan. As the Peoples do not blindly follow as they once did they step forward in protest if they saw their own bills but again a reason why they are not given their bills in the first place is it not.

    I saw home grown terrorists within the United States with Ken Lay and Enron who serve agendas that are self serving over the wellness and betterment of the Peoples. All parts that assist in the collapse of a nation is it not. You sow what you reap....sound familiar...now get a grip on the body you each share a responsiblity towards Peoples.

    Government, Industry, Finance, Academic, Military, Media, Religion(spirituality+ethics) and the Peoples. When the first seven use the Peoples it becomes a beast or Frankenstein monster that thinks it is a Vampire continually sucking from the body of Peoples. Done right it is all free within this global home. All free for it has already been paid for in full Peoples. To see the affects of it all done wrong=priceless when it comes to the understanding. Thank you Eve.

    Leaderships...a book years ago called the Sluman Curve was about how leaderships targeted peoples on the local, state and national level who did not share their perspective. Back off. Saw you coming years ago and know your intentions. If you knew the fullness of what was about to happen you would but you do not do you. Back off.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  20. George Faulkner

    I was disappointed in your story on the CNN program morning by Elizabeth Cohen. The story spent most of its time just on the outrageous charges by hospitals for toothbrushes, pills, IV bags, etc. but did not get into the reasons why hospitals do this so frequently (fraud? a need to cover expenses from treating those who cannot pay?), or how typical it is for insurance companies or the Medicare administration to ignore or challenge these? it was just an "outrage" story with nothing about causes, prevalence of it, or what's being done about it. I hope future sessions get into some of these details.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  21. Connie Hayes

    Unfortunately Ms Cohen is given some misinformation. Most of the charges she is talking about toothbrush, cotton balls, gloves are included in the room charge and are not allowed to be charged. 95% of Insurance companies no longer pay by charges, they pay by DRG which could be half of the facilities charges. Please please, being in the healthcare profession requires better reporting of true costs,charges by facilities, what hospitals have to pay for devices for our patients etc. Ms Cohen is a physician ??? she should be reporting more accurate information. This is misleading the public and giving hospitals a bad rap!

    March 1, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  22. cathy

    I agree with owen dwyer. Most of what CNN reports is Republican crap

    March 1, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  23. Tanay (PA)

    I was charged $2000 for four x-rays and $400 for a scheduled appointment that lasted 30 minutes. And when i called ahead of time to see how much it would cost for someone who had no insurance...they told me at the very most it would be $500.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  24. Ken Berumen, RN, MD

    What no one is reporting is that you never see a charge on your hospital bill for nursing care. Many of these inflated charges are actually used to pay for nursing. there are definite billing errors but the issue is one of no separate charge for nursing.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  25. Chris

    Fantastic piece. Very telling story. I hope you run this as much as your piece on broken government.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  26. Allan

    The patient never gets to see the outrageousness of bills for $1000 toothbrushes, etc. Want to change the process of Insurance companies' paying such outrageous bills – send the bill to the customer also.

    March 1, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  27. owen dwyer

    It is so ridicolous that you report daily on The U S government as though the party in power and their comments is the Republican Party.
    Every move by the O'Bama administration is reported as a violation of right wing Republican policies while the last election voted in the Democrats with a sound rejection of right wing Republican nonsense.While the Republicans soundly reject reconciliation they conveniently used it more than Democratic administration in history. CNN obviously will not report the truth.
    Owen Dwyer/ Canada

    March 1, 2010 at 6:45 am |
  28. Joseph Daniel Brian Lawlor

    The fix is for the global body and not a national body by itself. Smarten up Peoples. Cure the United States and leave the nations around you sickly or uncared for the entire body could become sickly and cancerous killing off that entire body.

    Government, Industry, Finance, Academic, Military,Media, Religion(spirituality+ethics) and the Peoples. The first seven are seen and treated as separate systems independant of one another when in fact they are all part of one operating system. Working it as separate systems leads to full collapse of the above and a work in progress.

    Service in a service industry that serves itself over the wellness and betterment of the Peoples. The mentality/motivations are off course and faulty and deserving of a full collapse.

    911 calls not our business unless our business is affected then 911 our business. Now back to American Morning....

    March 1, 2010 at 6:38 am |
  29. Jim Kimbrell

    Many Americans do want health care reform. People with a preexisting condition who cannot get insurance want reform. People who have lower paying jobs and are not given insurance want health care reform. They need health care reform.

    The January 2010 edition of National Geographic Magazine about page 20. There as a graph from The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. The graph shows how Americas spend more for health care than any other country. Americans have a shorter life expectancy than some other countries. Americans see a doctor less ofter too. Get a copy and look at the graph!

    I have first hand knowledge of Canadian health care. The people in Canada do not have to make payments for health care insurance. They pay with a higher sales tax. Richer people tend to pay more, because the have more to spend, they buy more things and end up paying more tax. When it comes time to go to a doctor, Canadians see a well trained doctors, no money is exchanged. If a Canadian goes to an emergency room, there is no bill, no mention of money in anyway. If a Canadian needs an operation, they get the operation, the patient pays nothing for the operation. The doctors all get paid, they make a very good living practicing medicine.

    A doctor's general practice in America is likely to have a staff of 6 people doing insurance billing for just one doctor. In Canada a doctor needs only one person, to answer the phone and make appointments. He submits a bill to government for the patients he has seen. There is not all the associated insurance billing, driving up health care costs.

    Socialized medicine is not a dirty work, it is not Communism. Canada does not leave people out in the cold, sick without a doctor. Socialized medicine is something like calling the police. Police protection is socialized. We expect to have police protection. Free schools is something like socialized schooling. If your home or business catches fire, a socialize fire department comes to your help. Why shouldn't we get socialized health care. Like the socialized health systems in Canada and England. The insurance companies are not going to let it happen. The high costs of health care is not good for America, the high costs of health insurance is not good for the American economy. The insurance companies have Americans by the throat, squeezing the life of Americans. It is capitalism run wild.

    February 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  30. A. Smith, Oregon

    The entire Western Medical Industry is ripe with graft and mass corruption. From the AMA to Big Pharma to your local MD's.

    You the customer are paying for all of the deadbeats:

    1) All previous patients that didn't pay for their medical bill

    2) All of the rip-off's by patients as well as MD's that successfully pushed thru a hyper-expensive bogus claim,

    3) The hyper-expensive drugs sold to Americans which costs a tiny fraction for the same prescription elsewhere in the world.

    4) The hyper-expensive medical diagnostic equipment which Western Medical MD's routinely rely on in ever greater needs.

    Any health care changes which largely solves even one or two of these problematic areas is going to greatly reduce costs and improve patient care, costs and trust with the medical providers.

    The largest obstacle is the massive money that is generated from all of that corruption is the driving force by those opposing any changes to the current state of America's health care industry.

    February 27, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  31. rgw

    and I can go on...even with my own problems...don't get me started with all this Gov. crap..the basic COSTS are not being viewed nor handled..so why does anyone–ANYONE think another Gov. run system is going to do anything???? compitition...EXCUSE ME...don't be stupid....basics not being looked at FIRST.. My Ins. just went UP..coverage DOWN...my mothers Sup. Ins always going up..Medicare was a joke....Medicade-TAKES anything and everything you OWN...want to try again...GOV. >>
    last comment...you only become a politician because you can not get a REAL JOB..and you want healthcare/pay check/goodies from TAX payers–FOREVER...and NOT WORK but get paid....PERIOD

    February 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  32. rgw

    After dealing with my mother's doctors/hospitals and med's...yes–lots of ???????? $40 for an asprin...5,000 for bottled water..
    Admin. costs...Med's that have been around since dawn of time costing Thousands(STILL) excuse me-let me think about the public being SCREWED..

    February 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm |