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Closer look at medical price-gouging

Some people have long felt that the cost of medicine is outrageous. Just how accurate this feeling has become, and just how outrageous these costs have become, is brought home by a recent study by Steven Brill in Time magazine.

Applying the in-depth scrutiny that good journalists practice, Brill penetrated the aura that surrounds medicine and shows us a world where a roll of gauze costs $17 -- or the never, never land where a miraculous cancer dosage costs $13,000, for which the hospital paid $2,000 to $3,000.

These and other charges are part of the Brill story, which sounds outrageous, if true -- and which apparently is all too true. It is no wonder that lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry receive billions more dollars than do the lobbyists for defense contractors.

This report emerges into a world where politicians are worried about the escalating costs of Medicare and Medicaid and rant and rave that these entitlements must be lowered. They see the booming costs of medicine as a dire threat to our national economy, but should see these high costs as a reason for demanding bids and controlling prices.

Americans apparently do not need more health insurance. They instead need and must demand more government supervision of an out-of-control industry that pays its hospital administrators as much as $1.8 million a year to provide services that the public cannot afford.

Brill has compiled a voluminous report that should be required reading for all politicians, and by the public that needs these medical services. While it is impossible to do his article justice here, these are some of the highlights:

A chest X-ray that should have cost $20 was billed at $283.

When the hospital used a cancer wonder drug called Rituxan, the charge was more than $13,000. All hospitals pay about $4,000 for the dose, but a volume discount would cut this to $3,000.

Brill said he got the idea for this article while visiting Rice University last year.

"As I was leaving the campus, which is just outside the central business district of Houston," he said, "I noticed a group of glass skyscrapers about a mile away, lighting up the evening sky. I was looking at Texas Medical Center, a nearly 300-acre, 280-building complex of hospitals and related medical facilities. Medicine had obviously become a huge business."

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.