US Health Care System Wasting Money On Overtreatment

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Several decades ago,medical researcher Jack Wennberg studied health care services in Vermont and found that"Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren'thealthier," but rather they "were just getting more healthcare," columnist David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times. Wennberg's results have held truein studies conducted at the national level, and they offer "the key tohealth reform -- how to spend less on health care while not making thepopulation any less healthy," according to Leonhardt.

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He writes that Wennberg's story "forms the backbone of 'Overtreated,' byShannon Brownlee," a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Leonhardt says Brownlee's work ishis "choice for the economics book of the year." He continues thathealth care spending "simply can't continue to rise at its currentpace," adding, "Fortunately -- if that's the right word -- there isan obvious candidate for cost-cutting: all that care that brings no healthbenefit." In her book, Brownlee "lays out an agenda for reform thatis usually confined to academic journals," Leonhardt says, adding,"It includes some steps that should be widely popular, like giving doctorsincentives to explain the risks and benefits of procedures more clearly thanthey do now."

He continues, "Other solutions would be more difficult," but"models for reform are out there." Leonhardt notes that since"the 1950s, doctors have made incredible progress against diseases thatwere once inevitably fatal" and that such progress "is probably thefinest human achievement of the last half century." Leonhardt concludes,"If we weren't wasting so much money on overtreatment, it would be a loteasier to repeat the achievement over the next half century" (Leonhardt, New York Times, 12/19).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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