Doctors who have a financial interest in radiation treatment centers are much more likely to prescribe such treatments for patients with prostate cancer, Congressional investigators say in a new report.
The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said that Medicare beneficiaries were often unaware that their doctors stood to profit from the use of radiation therapy. Alternative treatments may be equally effective and are less expensive for Medicare and for beneficiaries, the report said. In other recent studies, the auditors found a similar pattern when doctors owned laboratories and imaging centers that billed Medicare for CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging.
This, of course, is an example of a market behaving exactly as economists would predict it to behave. Doctors with an economic incentive to prescribe radiation treatment, prescribe more radiation treatment. Rational self-interest, and all that. Meanwhile, lacking the information to make an informed decision, patients end up getting expensive treatment that they might not need. The free market in action!
And that's why the market is a terrible way to deliver health care! The profit motive distorts health care decisions, and patients can't possibly be expected to attain the expertise necessary to be informed health care consumers. I'm not against doctors being well-paid; it's a demanding profession that takes years of expensive education and training. But they should be salaried, period. Maybe with bonuses based on improving outcomes for their patients. But our old "fee for service" system is just plain stupid.