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U.S. HEALTH CARE CALLED WASTEFUL AND EXPENSIVE
PANEL URGES NATIONAL INSURANCE

SHARE U.S. HEALTH CARE CALLED WASTEFUL AND EXPENSIVE
PANEL URGES NATIONAL INSURANCE

Americans waste billions of dollars on unneeded medical costs while nearly half the U.S. population can't pay for decent care, says a report to a congressional study group.

Witnesses before the panel recommend national health insurance, national care standards to avoid unnecessary treatments, an emphasis on preventive medicine, and a shift of more research dollars to health problems affecting the elderly, according to the report.The American health care system is "expensive, wasteful and denies millions of Americans even the most basic medical attention," Rep. James H. Scheuer, D-N.Y., said Monday in releasing the report.

"We spend $1.5 billion a day on health care, much more as a share of GNP than any other industrialized nation," he said. "Are we getting our money's worth? Absolutely not."

The report was based on nine days of hearings conducted in 1988 by the Joint Economic Committee's subcommittee on education and health, chaired by Scheuer. The 18-member committee is a bipartisan economic advisory group with membership weighted in favor of the majority party.

Some of the findings:

- Of the $500 billion spent in 1988 by Americans on health care, $125 billion was spent on unneeded tests and procedures, including many caesarean sections, pacemaker implants and coronary bypasses. Paperwork imposes a $20 surcharge on every $100 spent for health care, with malpractice premiums adding to that.

- About 37 million Americans have no insurance, 70 million more are underinsured and 23 million are served by Medicaid, which has declined in its ability to provide basic or equitable coverage. The U.S. population is 240 million.

- Twelve percent of the population is 65 and older, a group that generates high health care costs. That will grow to one in four in 2050, with 20 percent of that group expected to be 85 and over. Yet while incontinence, dementia and arthritis, all problems of the elderly, produce $60 billion a year in health care costs, only $200 million is spent annually on research to combat those afflictions.

The report recommended that until national health insurance can be provided, Medicare must be required to implement a fee schedule and encourage preferred provider organizations. Those are physicians who meet cost, quality and volume expectations. Standards of care must be developed to prevent unnecessary treatments, it said.

People must be encouraged to develop good habits - such as diet and exercise - that will prevent illness, the report said, adding that research priorities "must be drastically reordered" to focus on diseases of the elderly.

It also suggested seeking alternatives to malpractice lawsuits.