‘Bitter Pill’ Makes for Searing Expose of Runaway Prices

Steven Brill’s March 4, 2013 cover story in TIME Magazine – “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” – weighs in at more than 24,000 words, making it the longest single-author feature ever published by the prestigious magazine.

In a lively conversation with Bloomberg TV host Charlie Rose, following publication, Brill discussed what motivated his research, and what he concludes from it (Interview Part 1 and Part 2).

While most of the health care reform debate focused on access to care, Brill said he thought the question should have been just the reverse – why is care so incredibly expensive in the first place?  As he put it:  “Why will it cost $1 million if you are diagnosed with cancer? How come? Who’s getting the money?”

Among his findings:

  • “The bills are indecipherable. They are in double code. No consumer can understand those bills.”
  • “Obamacare does nothing to attack the core problem, which is pricing.”
  • “Health care is not a marketplace … There’s nothing free about that market…. There’s no player in the current health care market, no buyer, who has any leverage over the seller -- except for Medicare, because it is so big.”

And, he says, forget the formidable military-industrial complex. The health care industry eclipses it in power, spending four times as much to lobby Congress.

Brill concludes: “This health care economy’s going to eat us alive.”