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U.S. Health Care System 'Wasting' Money on 'Overtreatment,' Columnist Writes

by Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report | 1/7/2008 10:13:35 AM

Opinion 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't healthier," but rather they "were just getting more health care," columnist David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times. Wennberg's results have held true in studies conducted at the national level, and they offer "the key to health reform -- how to spend less on health care while not making the population any less healthy," according to Leonhardt. He writes that Wennberg's story "forms the backbone of 'Overtreated,' by Shannon Brownlee," a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Leonhardt says Brownlee's work is his "choice for the economics book of the year." He continues that health care spending "simply can't continue to rise at its current pace," adding, "Fortunately -- if that's the right word -- there is an obvious candidate for cost-cutting: all that care that brings no health benefit." In her book, Brownlee "lays out an agenda for reform that is usually confined to academic journals," Leonhardt says, adding, "It includes some steps that should be widely popular, like giving doctors incentives to explain the risks and benefits of procedures more clearly than they 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 that were once inevitably fatal" and that such progress "is probably the finest human achievement of the last half century." Leonhardt concludes, "If we weren't wasting so much money on overtreatment, it would be a lot easier to repeat the achievement over the next half century" (Leonhardt, New York Times, 12/19). The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2008 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved. Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report: Opinion - Dec 20, 2007. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report by clicking on the link below:


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