5 Healthcare Rip-Offs The Industry Hopes You'll Never Notice
Everyone knows that there are shady chiropractors, cut-rate plastic surgeons, and other purveyors of medical quackery (cough, Dr. Oz, cough) out there who are as willing as a three-card Monte dealer to deceive you out of your hard-earned cash. But, as a rule, we have faith that real professionals in the medical community are motivated more by altruism than they are by being able to afford a vacation home in Banff.
So it's especially disconcerting when you discover that there are some common healthcare practices that don't seem to fit the definition of "science-based medicine" at all, unless the "science" you're talking about is the study of used-car salesmanship.
Your Dentist Might Be Drilling For No Goddamn Reason
Only the most deviant and self-loathing among us actually enjoy a trip to the dentist, but it's a necessity if you want to progress through life without being mistaken for a member of European royalty. While we've all heard the stories of laughing gas parties and sedation fondlers among practitioners of the bicuspid maintenance trade, the vast majority of DDS's and DMDs can be entrusted to conduct themselves in the most Hippocratic way possible as they keep our choppers in working order. But stocking the office with the latest hi-tech equipment can get expensive, to be sure, so can we really blame them when they aggressively bombard us with excessive, teeth-destroying procedures so that they can get a return on investment?
"Rinse and spit. Preferably not on the billing clerk, please."
We're not talking about the stories of rogue maniacs who look at every pulled tooth from a screaming child as a ticket to becoming a Medicaid millionaire. The fact remains, however, that even if the guy in the white coat with the tray of troublingly pointy implements is the most well-meaning doctor around, some aspects of modern dental practice might be confirming every 7-year-old in the world's deepest fears by doing you more harm than good. See, the old model for taking care of patients' teeth was the "drill and fill" approach, where the dentist would simply react to your affinity for taffy and phobic avoidance of floss. But, nowadays, they're taking a more preventative approach and using cutting-edge tools to address the potential pothole festival in your mouth while they're still known as incipient carious lesions, or microcavities. Trouble is, studies suggest that it's frequently completely fucking pointless.
"Slight plaque buildup; guess we'll have to knock 'em all out and start over.
Your insurance covers gold and diamond grillz, right?"
And not only is it often pointless, early treatment measures can actually cause your smile to end up holier than Pope Francis taking a shotgun to the side of a barn. According to a report from the ABC News Medical Unit, some dentists, eager to make good use of their new technology, will convince patients that every tiny discrepancy on the enamel needs immediate filling and may even equate the situation with a life-threatening disease with comments like, "Do you want me to leave a little cancer in your mouth? No."
"I'm sure whatever money you save by not filling it will be enough
to cover your funeral."
Some of the more wizened members of the profession argue that these microscopic lesions can often take years to develop into something truly actionable, and sometimes don't even evolve into full-blown cavities at all. In other words, old-school dentists go for the "watch and wait" approach, while the young pups with the shiny, new (and expensive) equipment want to fill every hole they can find. Even if the sexual metaphor in the previous sentence hasn't hit you yet, it will the next time you go to the dentist.
The Best Birth Control Is Too Damn Expensive
There are a lot of birth control options on the market, from condoms to pills to filling every shelf in your home with Nazi memorabilia. However, many agree that the most effective way to keep the scourge of cell division from blaspheming your womb is the intrauterine device, or IUD. These magical mini-pogo sticks of baby-prevention are reportedly 20 times more efficient than the pill and probably at least that much more useful than the pack of mango-flavored Magnums you shoplifted from Rite Aid. They're expensive, though, so they're not as widely used as they probably would be. How expensive? Women are being charged thousands of dollars for something that costs around 40 cents to produce.
Similar to that watch you picked up near the train station.
While the initial payout of about $1,200 for an IUD makes it a cost-prohibitive option for many young women to consider, the crazy thing is that once you get one jammed up in there, it's probably the cheapest form of birth control in the long run outside of permanent unibrow-implant surgery.
Which is exactly why drug companies are charging so much for them. They own a device that's effective, cheap, and works for almost half of a woman's reproductive lifetime. So instead of handing them out like the free condoms you can get at your high school nurse's office, pharmaceutical companies made the price so high that young women are forced to try every conceivable cheaper method first before doctors reluctantly dole out the good stuff. And every conceivable birth control method often ends in -- you guessed it -- conception.
You'll hate Monday even more when you confuse it with Tuesday
and wind up with octuplets.
Good news, sexually active young women who can't afford insurance but don't want to share their dorm with a newborn -- it looks like a new product just came out that could bust the monopolies wide open. A company called Actavis has partnered with a women's pharmaceutical nonprofit known as Medicines360, and the result is a $75 FDA-approved little doohickey called Liletta. And if $75 is still out of reach, there may come a day when you can just 3D-print your own IUD. No word on whether or not you can 3D print a bot to insert the thing for you.
Women Are Getting Too Many Ultrasounds
Other than the invention of elastic waistbands, ultrasounds are the most important pregnancy tool of the 20th century. While hosting a human in your womb, you're going to have a lot of questions that a sound-driven image of your baby can answer. For example, is this baby alive? Is it in the right place? Is there only one of it? What's going on between its legs?
Has it committed cold-blooded murder yet?
And those are just questions you'll ask during a healthy pregnancy. If a baby shows signs of a tail, or the mother is old enough to actually afford the prohibitive cost of having a child, doctors will probably be whipping out the ultrasound device more often during the pregnancy. The good news is that, when used appropriately, ultrasounds are safe for both the mom and her womb-human.
The bad news is that, in an effort to bond with their babies, some parents are making frequent appointments with the local radiology clinic to get "prenatal portraits." Some mothers-to-be are even organizing parties around these events, because normal baby showers apparently lack the thrill of watching the skull-faced guest of honor writhing through an obstacle course of human viscera. Now the FDA has gone through the trouble of adding "too many ultrasounds" to their list of things pregnant women should avoid, right up there with alcohol and crack.
It's the rare party where people enjoy the slideshow of what you did during your summer vacation.
Using insurance data, one 2014 study found an average of 5.2 ultrasounds were being conducted per pregnancy, and that they were being doled out excessively even in low-risk cases. Current expert opinion has it that any more than two blue goo belly-rub sessions during the course of a normal pregnancy cannot be justified medically, but some doctors are perfectly willing to sign off for them willy-nilly. Oh, did we mention that an ultrasound can cost anywhere from $250 to $1,000?
"Hey, was that the machine, or did you just say 'cha-ching'?"
Pharmaceutical Companies Are Snatching Up Drugs So They Can Raise The Prices
Thankfully, scientists are constantly unveiling medical breakthroughs that allow us to avoid suffering from the maladies of our forebears. For instance, since the invention of Tang, haven't the streets been mostly clear of scurvy-ridden pirates?
While innovation in the biomedical field has already made life a whole lot more pleasant for the average person than it was for a filthy serf toiling in the tuberculosis fields, the truth is that the entire world might have access to even more helpful, low-priced products -- drugs, especially -- if it wasn't for a conflict among those in the pharmaceutical trade that might be claiming as many lives as any armed act of aggression: the drug patent wars.
Remember the story from a few months ago about Martin Shkreli, that weasel shitbrick/ex-hedge fund manager who cornered the market on a medication used in the treatment of AIDS, cancer, and malaria, and then jacked up the price to way-beyond-exorbitant levels? Here he is, just in case you happen to see him while he's on the way to the park to kick crippled ducks, or whatever he does in his spare time.
At least a crippled duck looks like it might stand a pretty good chance in a fair fight.
Distressingly, the odious president of the Shia LaBeouf fan club up there is by no means an isolated case. According to people in the pharmaceutical trade, a patent system is an absolute necessity because it allows them to recoup research costs, stimulate growth (in ways unrelated to the study of erectile dysfunction), and basically continue to stay in business. But it's also been argued that the current system is very inefficient and can frequently cause the prices for medicine to skyrocket. And when a drug costs an extravagant amount of money, it's inherently going to be used less, which means it won't be providing nearly the amount of benefit to the public as it should. Furthermore, the legal wrangling surrounding patent rights could mean that the cutting-edge genital coolant you've been praying for might stay tied up in court for years before it's released to the general citizenry.
And once a company gets their hands on a patent for a lucrative drug, they've historically been able to hand competitors who might want to make a cheaper, generic version a payoff to go away. Lawmakers and just about everyone else who doesn't have a lot of pharmaceutical stock in their portfolios agree that this is anti-competitive and results in the consumer getting the short end of the stick, but as yet there's no way to regulate it. And dickbirds like Shkreli can treat crucial medications like Burberry handbags with impunity. Because it's all legal.
He might be a much more sympathetic figure if every picture of him didn't look like he was
pantslessly typing to you on Chatroulette.
Pharmacists Are Selling You Cold Medicines That Don't Work
At some point this winter, you're probably going to get a cold that forces you to either constantly launder your snot-encrusted sleeves or bite the bullet and make a run to the cold aisle for some OTC TLC.
Unfortunately, recent research has shown that, even though some of your favorite cold medications have been around for decades and have ingredients approved by the FDA, they might actually be as effective for treating colds as waving a crystal around and lighting a candle in your ear while you consult a star chart for the healthiest way to rearrange your furniture. In other words, they aren't doing jack shit.
They're still great in a pinch when October rolls around and you've forgotten
to buy candy and you love talking to cops.
Store-bought decongestant medications used to work just fine, back when they were allowed to include the highly effective pseudoephedrine in the mix. But thanks to the rising population of Breaking Bad-style amateur methamphetamine producers, drug companies were compelled to relegate pseudoephedrine to the pharmacist's lockbox and replace it with another drug: phenylephrine. Now, phenylephrine might be great for shrinking down an aggressively burgeoning hemorrhoid, but recent research has found that it may not be doing squat in terms of de-boogerizing your nasal thoroughfares. At least not in the dosage that the FDA recommends. Actually, even in larger doses, its effectiveness may best be described scientifically as "shit-tastic."
Some of you will swear, though, that the last time you popped a store-shelf blister pack containing phenylephrine, it resulted in your phlegmy dilemmas clearing right up. But the reason for that might have less to do with the drug actually working and more to do with a placebo effect. Which, honestly, can be just as good, just so long as you're content with deluding yourself on a regular basis. The local pharmacy will be more than happy to assist you in this regard and happily take your money for a drug that might have the same healing capabilities as a bag of Skittles.
"Remember to eat all the citrus flavors. They have the vitamin C."
Be sure to check out 5 Things I Didn't Know About Health Care (Until I Got Sick) and 5 Ways US Medical Billing Is Way More F#@ked Than You Think.
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