You be the judge as you look at the realities, whether high hospital costs are caused more by hospitals that want our health or by politicians who want our votes.

Supermarkets are not required to give free food to customers who say they can't afford to pay, department stores don't have to give free clothing, landlords don't give free apartments but hospitals are required by law to treat anyone who comes to an emergency room. Patients who say they have no money go home without paying.

Government supplies, food, clothing and shelter for the poor but hospitals--not government--must supply healthcare for the poor and those who say they are.

We don't sue a baseball team when a batter strikes out or sue a football team when the quarterback throws an interception but we sue hospitals when a doctor makes a mistake, and most human beings--even as you and I--sometimes make a mistake.

But if a batter and quarterback try their best, and if doctors try their best, should there be what is called in law "the doctrine of assumed risk"?  This doctrine says that when one does something known to be risky, like driving over an ice-covered road or going for surgery, the driver and patient (not the town or the hospital) assume the risks.

If sports stadiums can decide how much to charge for hot dogs and beer, and if you and I can decide how much to ask a prospective employer for our services, should hospitals be able to set their own prices since common sense tells us that if they charge too much, a hospital equivalent of Walmart or Target or bargain airlines may start hospital chains to compete?

I'm not claiming that a brilliant bladder surgeon or heart doctor is worth as much as an athlete or singer, but if shortstops and third basemen get over $20 million a year as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez do, if Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake also get well over $20 million, and if Oprah Winfrey who isn’t the best talk show host (as far as I know) can get over $40 million a year, is $4 million or $5 million a year too much for doctors who can save your life and mine?

If some politicians and journalists complain that a few million a year is excessive compensation for doctors, is additional education the answer?  Does anyone think that medical schools should spend less time teaching hematology and pediatrics and more time on singing and batting? 

Working Conditions

Internists are exposed to all kinds of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases even including AIDS that can hit a doctor who accidentally sticks himself or herself with a needle.  Since shrinks can be killed and sometimes are by mentally ill patients, should politicians who complain about hospital prices provide compensation for doctors who lose their lives because dangerous working conditions afflict doctors who save our lives?

Most of us in PR might be unwilling to take a job working nights but hospitals are open and staffed with doctors nights, weekends and holidays.  A company could earn worldwide public gratitude by sponsoring a Medical Safety Research Building at a top place like Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to find new and better ways to protect the health of doctors, nurses and patients alike.  An annual press briefing on progress could each year bring worldwide media coverage.

In the weeks ahead, when we hear people sincerely wishing others a "happy and healthy new year," let's remember that athletes and entertainers can add to our happiness, as can some politicians, but for our health we can thank God and thank our doctors. 

levy* * *

Ron Levy is a veteran New York PR counselor and services executive.