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Free checking, auto shows, low-cost hotel rooms, and bypass surgery

Posted Aug 24 2008 9:45pm

Of the three major highways that lace the city of Milwaukee, there are at least five, and sometimes as many as ten, billboards that prominently feature one hospital heart program or another.

The passing of former First Lady, Ladybird Johnson in July, 2007, reminds us that, just 30 years ago, billboards were a far more common feature (many called them eyesores), proliferating like a dense forest of trees competing for a sliver of sunlight. Ladybird Johnson played a pivotal role in helping to dramatically reduce the number of billboards permissible on the nation’s highways. Of the relative few that remain today, a premium must be paid to post an advertisement. It costs several thousands dollars every month to maintain these highway commercials. But it’s not just an expense; it’s an investment.

The tens of thousands of eyes that view these billboards every day are potential customers, insured Milwaukeeans who carry health insurance and represent a major heart procedure just waiting to happen. They “need” to be directed to the right place. The billboards don’t feature health and wellness, heart disease prevention, or nutritional advice. They feature surgeons proudly wearing scrubs and masks, nurses, and declarations of the advantages of each hospital program. In effect, they invite you to have your heart attack, heart catheterization, bypass surgery, or other major heart procedure at their hospital. High-tech, high-ticket hospital heart care has become the subject of mainstream marketing, the stuff of flyers, brochures, and billboards.

The excesses of “big heart disease” have created a system that makes procedural heart disease “repair” far more profitable than heart disease prevention. Unfortunately, “repair” has disastrous financial, physical, and emotional consequences for everyone save the “repairman.”

While great good has been achieved by the American health care system, this gargantuan and inefficient system has also cultivated a culture of excess that has made many of its participants—physicians, hospitals, drug and device manufacturers—rich. And at our expense.

This approach was, to a degree, justifiable at a time when nothing better was available. But that's no longer true.

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