Why corruption is the new normal in health care (and what we can do about it)

Industry payouts to providers, unnecessary admissions to meet quotas, manipulating data for greater reimbursements: In The Huffington Post this week, Shannon Brownlee and Vikas Saini of the Lown Institute call out these ubiquitous practices for what they are – corruption.

“Our health care system is no longer about relieving the suffering of patients or the intrinsic value of maintaining the health of our population. It’s about making money,” Brownlee and Saini write. This systemic corruption contributes to ballooning health care costs and causes immeasurable harm to patients.

Just this week, The Seattle Times revealed that top brain and spine surgeons at Swedish Health in Seattle conducted simultaneous surgeries more than half the time between 2014 and 2016. Simultaneous surgeries allow hospitals and providers to increase revenue by effectively double-booking patients, and most of the time patients are not informed that their surgeon will not be present for part or even most of their surgery. Several patients who had complications from their surgeries at Swedish told The Times they would not have gotten the surgery if they knew their doctor was in multiple operating rooms at once.

In another particularly egregious example of corruption, some rehab centers are capitalizing on the opioid crisis by taking advantage of patients. STAT reports this week on “patient brokers,” middlemen hired by rehab centers to convince people struggling with addiction to check into treatment centers that bill patients for all they can, without providing help for rehabilitation.

There is no simple cure for corruption, say Brownlee and Saini. With so much money in the health care system, profit-mongering is bound to happen. But there are things we can do to make corruption less normalized. Speaking out against it is the first step. Take Dr. James Holsapple, who objected to simultaneous surgeries at his hospital and was forced to resign. He recently won a lawsuit against the hospital for wrongful termination, paving the way for other doctors to speak up.