Just last week, DrRich wrote a post explaining why medical screening tests, under our new paradigm of centralized healthcare, will always be found to be ineffective and harmful. Therefore, it will be the job of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)*, after making a great show of examining randomized clinical trials as if the result is not a foregone conclusion, to declare such tests useless.
*Regular readers will recall that the Obamacare legislation has transformed the USPSTF from its former status as a mere (one might say milquetoasty) advisory board, which made recommendations on preventive health that doctors and patients could take or leave alone, into an extraordinarily powerful GOD panel (Government Operatives Deliberating) that determines, definitively, which preventive services are to be covered and not covered by private insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid.
DrRich thought his observation would be viewed by many as a bit “out there,” and that proponents of Obamacare would accuse him (as they so often do) of being paranoid and reactionary. So imagine his surprise when, just yesterday, the New York Times published a “news analysis” which aggressively begins selling the public on that very notion – that medical screening tests are, by and large, a bad thing to do.
Even DrRich thought the Progressives would be somewhat circumspect about breaking such remarkable and counter-intuitive news to us in the great unwashed – especially considering that they have just spent the last three decades teaching us just the opposite. But then he recalled their smooth, unapologetic and entirely unremarked transition, around twenty years ago, from sounding the alarm about global cooling to catarwauling about global warming.
And he reminded himself that when you are a Progressive, history always began 10 minutes ago. And this turns out to be a great convenience.
In this case it is particularly convenient, when you consider the passionate declarations by Ms. Pelosi and others in 2009 that the watchword of Obamacare – indeed, the very key to the dramatically lower costs we would realize with this new legislation – would be “prevention, prevention, prevention.”
It is always risky to speculate on what is actually going on in Ms. Pelosi’s head, but certainly the public health experts who helped devise Obamacare understood the truth all along. Namely, it is axiomatic that medical screening tests will always, without exception, cost the healthcare system far more money than they can ever save the healthcare system. And therefore, medical screening tests will have to be suppressed – which is precisely why our new healthcare law provides the mechanism for doing so.
While readers should never doubt DrRich, he is aware that, sadly, many do. And so it may be necessary to review why screening tests are invariably a money-losing proposition:
The fact is, the best we can hope for from medical screening tests is that they might save a life here and there, which is hardly a public health victory. But whether they save a few lives or not, they’re inevitably going to cost us a lot of money.
And clearly, from the public health standpoint, a standpoint from which we’re paying for all healthcare collectively from pooled resources (and working hard to deny people the legal right to spend their own money on their own healthcare), it makes no sense to do screening tests.
Screening tests only make sense to the individuals who are at risk for the medical condition being screened, not to the collective.
The New York Times goes on at length to explain how screening for early cancers causes harm and inconvenience for many people in order to help a few. It mentions several of the points in DrRich’s bullet list above. It quotes several public health experts who, shaking their heads sadly, allow as how perhaps the medical profession has “oversold” screening tests in the past decades. These experts lament the fact that the public will need to be re-educated about the limitations and the harm being done by these tests. The Times worries that, perhaps, people will think the new de-emphasis on screening tests is related to healthcare costs, when nothing could be further from the truth. The worthlessness of screening tests is a new revelation, made clear by recent clinical trials. What can we do but follow the science?
DrRich is not arguing that medical screening tests are invariably a good idea. In fact, he has just given his readers an entire list of reasons they are often not a good idea.
What he is arguing is that the whole framework for our current debate over screening tests is wrong.
The proper way to deal with the imperfections of screening tests is as follows. We should carefully explain to each individual who is a candidate for screening (because they are at risk for the medical condition being screened), all of the risks of embarking on a screening pathway – the potential discomfort, inconvenience, medical risks, and costs of the screening test, of the possible follow-up tests that may be required, and of the treatments that may become necessary if the testing is positive. The individual can then weigh these negatives against the possibility of failing to discover a treatable disease while it is still treatable. And, taking into account everything that people take into account when making such momentous personal decisions, the individual can do what they believe is right for them. And either decision – to have or not have the test – would be reasonable, rational, and evidence-based – for that individual.
But we are arguing this question as if taking individual preferences into account is not even on the table. We are arguing as if we must make a sweeping decision regarding screening – yes or no – that will apply across the board, to all Americans, regardless of how they would personally weigh the relative risks and benefits.
We are arguing in this way because that’s precisely the approach that Obamacare has codified into law. Medical decisions from now on will be centralized, and not individualized. The GOD panelists will determine which decision is best for the collective. And what’s best for the collective is best for us individuals.
But the “screening test debate” graphically illustrates a truth that modern medical ethicists at least implicitly (and often explicitly) deny: What’s best for the collective is NOT always what’s best for the individual. And when we must only make medical decisions collectively, individual Americans will be systematically harmed. And that includes, according to the USPSTF’s own documentation, several thousand women and men each year whose early, currently treatable, but ultimately lethal breast and prostate cancers will no longer be detected early enough to do any good.
DrRich thinks these individuals should be given the opportunity to consider their options regarding medical screening, and make the choice that’s right for them. Progressives – especially the GOD panelists, the public health experts, and most of the American media – do not.
That’s the debate we should be having.