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Doctors' Greed Increases Health Care Costs

Diagnostic imaging, which also includes CT, MRI and PET scans, is approaching a $100-billion-a-year business. Recently many orthopedic surgeons, cardiologists, neurologists and others have started to purchase their own MRI scanners and have been performing these tests on patients. These machines cost a few million but when you are charging up to $1,000 a scan, it doesn't take too long to recoup your investment and make some very serious cash.

While federal regulations, under the so-called Stark Law, generally forbid doctors from sending patients to imaging centers or labs in which they have a financial interest, doctors are allowed to own and operate equipment in their offices.

Here are some other interesting facts about MRI scans:

  • The first MRI was introduced in 1978 in Great Britain; the first U.S. scanner in 1980. By 1988 there were 1,230 units; by 1992 between 2,800 and 3,000.
  • A definitive review published in 1994 found less than 30 studies out of 5,000 that were prospective comparisons of diagnostic accuracy or therapeutic choice.
  • American College of Physicians assessed MRI studies and rated 13 out of 17 trials as "weak"--meaning the absence of any studies on therapeutic impact or patient outcomes.
  • It is evident that hospitals, physician-entrepreneurs, and medical device manufacturers have approached MRI and CT as commodities with high-profit potential, and decision-making on the acquisition and use of these procedures has been highly influenced by this approach. Clinical evaluation, appropriate patient selection, and matching supply to legitimate demand might be viewed as secondary forces.

We will be spending nearly $3 trillion on health care very soon. Our economy cannot afford to pay these fees for frivolous tests that only pad the pockets of drug companies and doctors. If this nonsense doesn't stop soon, our standard of living will plummet. General Motors is already spending $60 billion on health care retirement benefits. The price you pay for GM cars has to include these costs. This is affecting our entire economy and it needs to change.

New York Times March 13, 2004

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