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Physicians Foundation says doctors are not leading driver of rising healthcare costs

Every once in a while, someone writes an article or column blaming doctors for rising healthcare costs. Timothy Norbeck, a 46-year veteran of championing physicians, has seen such finger pointing many times, but a recent article teed him off enough to write a white paper examining the drivers of healthcare costs.

The offending text, “Your doctor makes too much money,” was written by Eli Lehrer, who runs a think tank supporting free markets, as an opinion piece published in the Dallas Morning News last July. In his commentary, Lehrer argues that high wages of physicians (and other healthcare workers) drive up the costs of medical care.

In Norbeck’s white paper, “Drivers of Health Care Costs,” written for the Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating for physicians, of which Norbeck is the chief executive officer, he argues that new technology – not doctors’ wages – is the leading offender among a host of other factors, including chronic illness, driving the rising cost of healthcare.

[See also: Unhealthy behaviors impacting quality of life, costs.]

What started out as a rebuttal to the blame game turned into an examination of the healthcare costs tableau.

“I’m not trying to make excuses. I just think, yeah physicians are paid pretty darn well – and some better than others – but they should be. I think you can make an argument for that,” Norbeck told Healthcare Finance News.

“I think it’s probably time to reassess healthcare costs … maybe to help people realize that we’ve got to concentrate on the real cost issues.”

As Norbeck sees it, the country is ripe for more comprehensive conversations about the components of healthcare costs. He points to the current national conversation on gun control as an example.

“(When) people talk about gun control now, some people are saying ‘We’ll get rid of all guns,’ but others are saying ‘What about violent Hollywood? What about the movies?’” he said. People are delving into the issue, looking at all the components of it, Norbeck said, and he’s hoping that holistic examination will carry over to discussions of healthcare costs. "If we’re trying to save money,” he said, “let’s look at all the components.”

In addition to new technology (defined as any new procedure, drug or device), some of the other components driving up healthcare costs Norbeck writes in his white paper are administrative expenses, physician/clinical services, hospitals, medical malpractice/defensive medicine, pharmaceutical costs, lifestyle choices, chronic diseases, aging and end of life care.

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