The Common Good

Three Ways to Remind Hospitals Why They Exist

What to do as a Christian when presented with an injustice? I missed. After sharing my story about how outrageous our local hospital charges were, the comments were very supportive and gave good advice as to what and where my family and I could do and go for help. Talk to the radiologist, one advised. Another gave the suggestion that we should go to our faith community and they could help us with the hole that others' greed put us in. All of the advice was helpful, but I failed in what I intended. I aimed for the conscience and hit the heart.

While I would love to go home for Christmas, I also recognize that is a luxury. My son's health comes first. The medical bills are being paid and my church did great job of helping us. Your thoughts and prayers have been helpful, and I know Christ has been with us through the process. We will make it through. Yet few commented on the larger point of a broken system. A radiologist, admitting that many in his profession run up the bill, commented that he wished his colleagues could see the damage their greed causes. The questions hanging in the air: Why are they playing the profit game with people's lives in the first place? What has happened to the Hippocratic oath?

Many people have been willing to help us in the particular, but what about the general? What about those people who are unfortunate enough to lack a large forum and space to tell their story? Give a man a fish, the saying goes, but teaching a man to fish translates into justice.

I also shared our good experience at Seattle Children's Hospital. That hospital I have nothing but praise for, and they are profitable, as well as being one of the most innovative. It is an example of the how great medicine is less expensive than the less than mediocre medicine that is the norm in our country. One of the major challenges of our health-care system is how do we get more hospitals to function as the jewels of the system and less like the money-loving, fat-filled hospitals that are killing the system.

The real problem is one of purpose. Most modern hospitals are now more concerned with the bottom line than they are in healing; they're more concerned with taking care of the insurance companies than the "revenue generating units" (what were formally called "patients"). Several proposals could help in refocusing hospitals back to their reason for existence. These proposals would be more in line with capitalism.

First, transparent billing. What does the hospital charge for an MRI? If I knew I could go shopping and get the best deal. Currently, it is more like Mystery Meat Monday. You can never be sure until the bill comes. Second, transparent rating of the medical staff. I can find more ratings on the latest movie. How can we utilize competition to regulate the system when competition is not the practice? Third, provide incentives for the hospitals to have salaried doctors rather than doctors who charge based on services. It is common sense that if there is no incentive to perform needless procedures, then there will be less of them.

A common definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. We know of a great working model for hospitals and one that is not so good. Is it insane to demand that all hospitals become more like the Mayo Clinic, Seattle Children's, and similar outstanding hospitals? It is insane to put up with $1180 per gallon sugar water, while watching families get ruined. Injustice rules when good people choose to be inactive.

portrait-ernesto-tinajero1Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at

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