March 16th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

Zakaria: Every year, 100k Americans die from hospital-acquired infections

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

David Goldhill, the CEO of the Game Show Network, is an unlikely agitator in the health care debate. He got involved after his father went to the hospital with pneumonia - and died from an infection while he was there. He says now:

"I saw a hospital with less impressive information technology than my dry cleaner has, than my auto mechanic has - a couple of times, my father was taken for procedures meant for other patients. There's trash on the floor. Almost everywhere it overflows in patients' rooms. There's an erratic nature of scheduling of personnel. You're endlessly dealing with personnel who don't know anything about your case. This is the intensive care unit we're talking about."

The fate of Goldhill's father is all too common.  Every year, an estimated one hundred thousand Americans die from an infection they got in a hospital. Goldhill continues:

"Once I got beyond, obviously, the personal elements of the tragedy, I thought that there's something very unusual about this, just in the scope of how the world works today. And as I spent time thinking about health care, I began to think about the lack of real accountability to customers and the incentives to bad behavior that really dominate the way the industry is structured."

Unlike many markets, customers don't really pay their own bills in health care. Instead, it's a private insurance company, or the government, that pays. In the case of Goldhill's father, Medicare picked up most of the tab - which was over six hundred thousand dollars before a hospital discount. Goldhill says:

"To all of us, that seems terrific, right? I look at it a different way. If Medicare had said to my mother, 'You pay the bill,'and the hospital had come to my mother and said, 'Here's what we're charging you for killing your husband,' the collection would have been zero. There's no way my mother would have paid that bill. There's no way any of us would pay that bill."

Goldhill summed up his worldview in an article in The Atlantic, How American Health Care Killed My Father. He says if patients spent more of their own money on health care, prices in the industry would come down. Goldhill says, "The problem with insurance is that it's very costly. It's a very costly way to finance anything, which is why it's never used to finance anything outside of health care that isn't major and rare and unpredictable."

So what can be done? I explore that question and more in depth in "Global Lessons: The GPS Road Map for Saving Health Care," which will debut on Sunday, March 18, at 8:00pm and 11:00pm ET & PT on CNN/U.S. It will air on CNN International on Saturday, March 24 at 9:00pm ET.  My companion article for TIME will be in the edition that hits newsstands on Friday, March 17.


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