Have you heard the one about the guy who came in for a CT scan?
Of course you haven't, and the joke is on you. Because doctors and health officials failed to track the patient, the fellow in question got 328 brain scans in just two years.
That incident -- which took place in this state -- is emblematic of the nation's broken health care system, said Lanier Cansler, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services. We've got the science to map a patient's brain but we don't have a system in place to keep patients from getting unnecessary procedures.
"You can recognize that person because they glow in the dark," Cansler quipped.
Cansler kicked off the 8th Annual Economic Forecast Forum this morning at Progress Energy Performing Arts Center in Raleigh with a discussion of health-care reform.
Cansler is for health-care reform, as his example suggests. But one person in the audience asked Cansler why he's not fighting a federal takeover of the health industry.
Cansler said one reason is because the the bill in Congress would expand medical coverage and thus reduce the number of uninsured patients who get their health care in the most expensive way: through emergency room visits. That trend has become more acute during the recession as unemployed people lose insurance coverage and use emergency rooms as their primary care providers.
More than 1.8 million people in the state are uninsured and almost half the babies born in this state come into this world on Medicaid, Cansler told the audience.
The massive health reform bill in Congress has passed the Senate and House of Representatives, and awaits negotiations to combine the two versions. Cansler said the bill would add as many as 800,000 people to the state's Medicaid rolls and would qualify the state for $2.3 billion more in federal dollars.
Local health-care system executives on the morning panel agreed with Cansler, but others said the health-care reform is deeply flawed and would increase costs for everyone.
J. Bradley Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, warned that the bill could raise small group and individual rates by 50 percent. Wilson next month will become CEO of Blue Cross, the state's biggest medical insurer.
Wilson warned that rationing of health care will become inevitable as a way of controlling runaway costs. What's more, Wilson warned, the divisive bill could become a giant pork barrel project to entice more votes, further raising costs.
Even supporters of health care reform said they worry that the bill would limit some coverage and lead to what critics call rationing.
But the key to controlling spiraling costs may be preventing the same guy from getting 328 brain scans.
"If we take away all the waste and defensive medicine, we can take a lot of the cost out, rationing may exist but it may not be as severe," said Victor Dzau, CEO of Duke University Health System. "This nation needs health-care reform"