Reiff: Healthcare Exec Favors Drug-Ad Ban, Fewer Hospital Procedures

A top hospital executive says drug ads drive up healthcare costs and contribute to the opioid crisis and should be banned from television.

“I think it’s a great disservice, not only to the U.S. healthcare system, but to the individual,” Barry Arbuckle, CEO of Fountain Valley-based MemorialCare Health System, said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs program.

He said in a typical ad, “Somebody who can speak much faster than I can, at the end of it goes through all of these horrific possible complications – it’s required by law – and you kind of glaze over but you see these images of people running on the beach… You want that medication, you don’t care what it costs.”

Arbuckle said the United States is one of only two countries (the other is New Zealand) that allows drug companies to advertise directly to consumers.

MemorialCare is a $2.4 billion (annual revenue) non-profit hospital system that includes Long Beach Memorial, Orange Coast Memorial and Saddleback Memorial. It also has imaging, surgical and urgent centers and doctor offices throughout Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

Arbuckle said there could be savings of anywhere from $1,200 to $6,000 per procedure if MRIs, knee replacements and many other out-patient services were done in community-based centers instead of in hospitals. “Same patient, same procedure, many times the same radiologist reading the image,” he said.

Arbuckle said some sick and elderly out-patients need the acute care services of a hospital in case something goes wrong, but his clinicians estimate that 75% of patients don’t.

Many hospitals have been resisting a switch to lower-cost services, Arbuckle said, but Medicare and private insurers, led by Anthem, are beginning to apply pressure: “I think we’re moving in that direction.”

Arbuckle said he welcomed the entry of corporate giants into the healthcare field. Walmart wants to acquire health insurer Humana, for example, and retailer Amazon is also eyeing the industry.

“These are by and large innovative companies, and they look at healthcare as needing a kind of systematization and a fix, and they think they are the ones to do it,” Arbuckle said. “And so they are disruptors and a lot of folks look at that and say, ‘Oh no, they don’t belong in healthcare’ or ‘What’s going to happen to us?’ I think it’s a good thing.”

But he cautioned, “They’re gonna find out what President Trump found out about healthcare when he said, ‘Who knew healthcare was really that complicated?’ They’re going to find that out. It’s not that easy to fix. It’s not like the routine of sending packages to someone.”

Arbuckle has chaired the California Hospital Association and is a member of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a key advisory group based in Washington, D.C..

Arbuckle said he worried that President Trump’s elimination of the individual insurance mandate would undo some of the gains of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. He credited the ACA with controlling some costs and for moving the United States closer to universal coverage, which he said is provided by every other health system in the world.

However, Arbuckle said he likes the “public and private aspects” of the U.S. healthcare system “because they keep each other honest, it’s a good balance… I’m not a big fan of the so-called single payer system.”

Arbuckle said Great Britain is typical of single-payer systems that also offer insurance and other private-sector elements: “Many of the countries that we think have this pure, seamless single payer, really don’t.”

The Inside OC episode aired last week on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox. The interview is also on YouTube, as is a post-show Open Mic segment.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org