Friday, August 28, 2009

Blogger Cries Foul Over Biased Article

The Associated Press sucks so much that when I read an article titled Cardiologists Crying Foul Over Medicare Cuts Hurt Obama Revamp, which spent most of it's time featuring unchecked claims from cardiologists; I naturally assumed it was from the AP and was surprised to learn it came from Bloomberg. But all the same, the article sucks.

Here's an example of them outsourcing their research department to cardiologist Zia Roshandel, a doctor who receives two-thirds of his patients from Medicare:

Medicare would reduce reimbursements for some of Roshandel's most common procedures, raising the amount patients will need to pay up front, he said. The government would cut the $251 it pays for an echocardiogram, a sonogram of the heart, by 40 percent, he said. The rate for a cardiac catheterization, another test, would drop by a third to $249.

Those reductions include an additional across-the-board cut of 22 percent for all physicians mandated by federal budget rules. Legislation passed by three committees in the House last month would eliminate that cut, at a cost of $200 billion to U.S. taxpayers. Even so, if Medicare goes ahead with its tilt toward primary care, cardiologists will suffer, Roshandel said.

And so they spend a paragraph repeating Roshandel's claim about how much his payments will be cut, before mentioning that his numbers include a 22% cut which was mandated by federal budget rules and looks like Congress will eliminate. And are these numbers even correct? I have no idea, because the journalists who wrote this didn't bother doing the research, but are merely repeating Roshnadel's claim. So we're stuck doing the math in our heads, to determine what the real cuts might be, if they go through as indicated. Great work, guys!

Saving the Best for Last

And only at the end of the article are we given this little factoid:
Cancer specialists made similar warnings three years ago when reimbursement was cut for the drugs they used, said Nancy M. Kane, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and member of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a panel of outside advisers to Congress.

“As far as I know we have not seen a drop in the number of oncologists since then,” Kane said. “People are not screaming that they don’t have access to oncologists.”
In other words, specialists in a similar situation said the same thing three years ago, yet the sky didn't fall. And if the reporters knew this, shouldn't it have behooved them to have included more actual reporting in the article, rather than just taking dictation from the doctors who don't want their pay cut?

And then there was this factoid:
The pay shift would help right a financial imbalance that keeps young physicians out of family care, said Epperly, of the family doctors’ group.

Average total compensation for family doctors ranged from $150,763 to $204,370 a year, according to a 2008 survey by Modern Healthcare magazine. Cardiologists fetched from $332,900 to $561,875. Radiation oncologists, cancer doctors who specialize in radiation therapy, earned $357,000 to $463,293.
So, according to a healthcare magazine, cardiologists can make up to half a million a year. And yet, we're to imagine that these Medicare cuts are going to either force them to work for free (a claim Roshandel made in the article) or put them out of business. Something here doesn't add up.

And sure, perhaps Roshandel's situation is different and his rural clinic couldn't run on these reduced payments. Yet, we're left with the overall issue that the article continually suggests that this is a problem for cardiologists as a whole, yet their income is still twice as much as that of primary care physicians. Call me crazy, but I suspect this is an issue of doctors not wanting a paycut, and not one of them being put out of business. Perhaps some day we can have a media which realizes that their job is to report facts, not merely repeat assertions.

And let's not forget something in all this: For as much as folks complain about government-run healthcare being wrong, even to the point of dissing Medicare itself, it's quite obvious that it is the only thing sustaining doctors like Roshandel and his partners. After all, he says that even a cut in his fees will put him out of business. Imagine how bad it would be if we listened to conservatives and got rid of Medicare all together.

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