It seems nearly impossible to read an article, watch or listen to a broadcast, or even engage in a discussion on the topic of healthcare without these two words making an appearance. Various groups from physicians to attorneys, from insurers to politicians, all point the blame at each other, each frantically proffering the root cause of increasing healthcare costs. Access and quality issues complete the triarchy governing healthcare in the U.S., and receive media coverage as well, but the emphasis always comes back to rising costs.
In essence, the bottom line seems to be all about the bottom line.
One can hardly dispute the stress rising healthcare costs places on access to healthcare, nor can one deny the difficulties faced with the arduous task of lowering costs without sacrificing quality. These topics have been and continue to be analyzed at length by scholars and industry experts alike. But has the average critic taken the time to put healthcare costs into perspective?
Without joining any of the camps battling in the big blame game; without so much as touching the well-raked topics of medical malpractice premiums, tort reform, increasing access and quality without raising costs; without opining on the effectiveness of the current healthcare system in the U.S.; I aim to simply present comparisons between certain healthcare-related costs and certain nonhealthcare-related costs in an effort to show just how rational at times and irrational at other times healthcare costs are when measured against other kinds of costs.
By way of initial comparison, where better to start than with a sampling of healthcare-related salaries? Here is how some healthcare salaries stack up against various nonhealthcare positions. For instance, salary.com reports that the majority of family practice physicians working in the Pittsburgh area earn from $133,551 to $176,651. The range jumps to $300,239 to $502,651 for heart transplant surgeons. Neurosurgeons garner between $330,967 and $536,114 in the region. Of course, geographic region comes into play with New York family practitioners averaging between $158,912 and $210,197 while their peers in Boise, Idaho, take in between $126,671 and $167,551 annually. A clinical research associate job hunting in Boston should expect a salary of $51,298 to $67,633 while an entry-level microbiologist will likely receive annual compensation from $41,313 to $49,008.
By comparison, Forbes.com releases the Celebrity 100 each year, in which various athletes, actors, musicians and other famous types are ranked based on several criteria. One criterion is earnings, and each celebritys profile includes a reported earnings estimate. This year, Forbes ranked Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods and Madonna as Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively. For the period between June 2006 and June 2007, Oprahs earnings were a reported $260 million, Tiger came in at $100 million and Madonna at $72 million. Moving down Forbes list, Rachael Ray checks in at No. 66 with $16 million in earnings and near the bottom of the list falls Larry the Cable Guy at No. 81 at $20 million in earnings.
On the less-glamorous end of the income spectrum, according to salary.com statistics, janitors in Peoria, Ill., can expect to earn from $21,313 to $26,469 while food servers in Little Rock, Ark., should get from $17,096 to $22,739 in annual compensation.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports national statistics covering mean charges for U.S. community hospital stays. For the year 2005, the most recent year with available statistics, AHRQ reported that the mean charge for a circumcision was $5,057; respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation procedures averaged $62,292; heart valve procedures cost $133,405; tracheostomiestemporary and permanentran $205,120; other organ transplantations cost $307,448; and extracorporeal circulation auxiliary to open heart procedures averaged $324,720. By way of comparison, the Toyota Corolla has a manufacturers suggested retail price starting at $14,405; the Lexus LS, absent options, starts at $61,500; and the MSRP on a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti ranges from $255,519 to $267,887.
An Aug. 30 news release from HHS reported $75 Million in Supplemental Funding to States for Pandemic Flu Preparedness. There are, of course, 50 states sharing the bounty along with other U.S. territories such as Guam and American Samoa. Remember the celebrity salaries as reported by Forbes? The supplemental funding for pandemic flu preparedness is greater, by a small margin, than the amount Madonna earned in the past year but less than Tigers take and less than one-third of Oprahs earnings.
At the start of the 2007 NFL season, a time when, at least in theory, any team can make it to the Super Bowl, tickets for the big game to be held on Feb. 3, 2008, at the University of Phoenix Stadium can already be had online at $3,250 each for starters and up to $7,500 each as the quality of the seat increases. Tickets to a regular season Indianapolis Colts game, all of which are sold out by the way, range from $24 to $194 a pop. As a comparison, the copayments listed on my own insurance card are $20 for an office visit, $30 for a visit to a specialist, and $75 for an emergency room visit.
A store-brand bottle of good, old-fashioned aspirin can be found for as low as $1.99. A single dose of acetylsalicylic acid (the fancy name for aspirin), administered at a hospital, can easily cost an uninsured patient $5 out of pocket.
Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh will have a new home upon completion of its new campus which is currently under construction. The cost of construction for the new facility has been reported at $575 million. By way of comparison, here is a look at how the cost of a childrens hospital stacks up next to some individuals personal worth. Forbes.com also ranks The 400 Richest Americans, with the most recent list released on Sept. 20. Bill Gates again topped the list with a reported net worth of $59 billion. Perhaps even more interesting is that all 400 on the list have assets reported at $1.3 billion or more, up from $1 billion last year. Oprah, incidentally, and not to pick on Oprah, jumped from No. 242 last year to No. 165 this year with a net worth of $2.5 billion.
No one can deny the fact that some healthcare costs are way too high. But how can anyone deny the importance of healthcare to each and every one of us? Healthcare is expensive but, then again, perhaps it should be. Right up there with food, water, and shelter, healthcare is of dire importance to us all. Advances in healthcare involve the latest in science and technology, costly tools. Viewed as a necessity, however, it is far too easy to complain about our financial contributions to healthcare while at the same time paying grossly inflated prices for movie passes and tickets to events that have made ballplayers and actors two of the highest paid professions in the world. Some healthcare costs are out of line and need to be brought into check. When critiquing healthcare costs, this is where the focus should fall. As for general criticism about rising costs, the next time you hear someone say that an athlete deserves the big salary he signed for, at least ask this question: Looking at celebrity salaries, how we can complain so much about healthcare costs?