The Third-Leading Cause Of Death Is Preventable, But Candidates Don't Mention It

Leah Binder | Forbes | October 26, 2016

It is more likely to kill you than terrorism. It has profoundly impacted virtually every American family. So this election year, why aren’t politicians at all levels of government talking about the third-leading cause of death in America—preventable errors in healthcare? The statistics are staggering: more than 500 patients per day are killed by errors, accidents and infections in hospitals alone. Medical errors kill more people annually than breast cancer, AIDS or drug overdoses. One in four Medicare beneficiaries admitted to a hospital suffers some form of preventable harm during their stay. And yet, it’s nowhere to be found in those stump speeches.

There are a few reasons for the silence. First is all about the illogical way Americans pay for health care. With the traditional “fee for service” model, we pay for procedures and tests—not outcomes. It means we also pay for medical mistakes. If you got the wrong medication in post-op, chances are no doctor or nurse will tell you about it. But it will show up on your bill, alongside the charges for any other intervention required to treat your adverse reaction. Considering that deciphering these bills is akin to reading hieroglyphics, many of us are victims of medical mistakes without even realizing it.

Another reason we may not hear much about it is that our political candidates are not eager to annoy deep-pocketed supporters. Last year, the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector was the top lobbying industry in Washington, spending $240 million—twice as much as Big Oil. At the local level, hospitals are often one of the largest employers in a community, a pillar of almost every congressional district. While many healthcare leaders are outspoken and bold proponents of change, some are embarrassed by the errors and would prefer their politicians not dwell on it...