KSJ Tracker December 17, 2012

And here's a little more to the post about health care costs...

On Dec. 13, I posted about the lack of efforts to be smart about controlling health-care costs. Some politicians have proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare, which would simply lop off millions of people from the health care they are now expecting to get.

I encouraged reporters to get out and explore other alternatives, to remind readers that a crude move like raising Medicare is not the only way to cut costs. I relied heavily on an Op-Ed in The New York Times as an example of the kind of thing I was talking about. It was written by one David B. Agus, identified as a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California and the author of "The End of Illness." He wrote that aspirin had vast benefits in preventing heart disease and cancer, and that encouraging its use could sharply reduce those illnesses and save "untold billions."

The argument, as far as I'm concerned, makes sense in broad terms, but I now know a little bit more about its author. In a post on AgusGary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org writes that Agus is "at it again." He is a "tireless promoter of his book," Schwitzer writes, and his hyperbole concerning aspirin is "off the charts." Schwitzer briefly reviews evidence that aspirin is not quite the wonder drug that Agus says it is.

Schwitzer also noted that there is a bit of a pattern here. In January, Schwitzer had criticized an ABC story on Agus's book, and expecially on Nightline host Bill Weir's claim that a "coronary calcium" CT scan Agus recommended might have saved Weir's life. In October, Weir did an on-air correction. Schwitzer quotes experts saying that it's far too early to know whether the scan saved Weir's life. 

My point stands: There are many better ways to save money on health care costs than tossing people off of Medicare. But if I'd known more about this story, I would have chosen a different example to make the point.

-Paul Raeburn


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