Doctors Pay Athletes for Medical Care

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Bill Pennington of The New York Times reports that, in exchange for promotion rights, tickets, and other goodies, doctors and hospitals are paying sports teams (rr) and providing free or highly discounted medical care:

Despite concerns among many doctors and the players' unions over the ethics of putting health care out to bid, about half the teams in the four major North American professional sports are now tied contractually to a medical institution. Industry analysts expect that number to grow significantly....

The Mets, for example, are paid more than $1 million a year by the New York University-Hospital for Joint Diseases, with the hospital providing the services of its doctors at no cost. In return, the hospital advertises at Shea Stadium and receives free tickets and periodic visits from players at hospital events. When the Mets signed their seven-year deal in 2001, their longtime team doctor, Dr. David Altchek, was let go.

Some medical care consumers might complain that this only makes healthcare more expensive for the rest of us. But this isn't so, since these organizations would have huge advertising and marketing budgets even without spending money and time on professional athletes.

Many doctors have a hard time accepting that their service should be packaged, marketed, and sold:

Many doctors, however, are deeply concerned about the propriety of these arrangements. "These groups should have to put out a disclaimer: `We paid for the ability to treat these top athletes,' " said Dr. Robert Huizenga, a former team doctor for the Oakland Raiders and past president of the National Football League Team Physicians Society. "What's it say about our profession when the most high-profile jobs are awarded not by merit, but by auction?"

Dr. Dan Brock, director of Harvard Medical School's Division of Medical Ethics, called the marketing arrangements unseemly....

Dr. Gordon Matheson, editor in chief of The Physician and Sports Medicine, a journal, and Stanford University's team doctor, said: "It hurts us all. Do physicians fight over the right to take care of a run-down section of town? These arrangements can't help but imply some competition for secondary financial gain, and that doesn't jibe with the central values of health care."

I think doctors have to stop kidding themselves. Most people--including doctors--strive to make money, regardless of their occupation. There is no reason why a responsible, moral person cannot make money providing medicine for people willing to pay. I gather that Dr. Matheson insists that money-striving doctors treat people who cannot pay along with those who can. But his argument in favor of medical charity has nothing to do with any particular advertising plan implemented by a medical facility.

Is he seriously arguing that without such an advertising-care agreement, the best possible care would always be given regardless of cost? Or that a greater emphasis will be put on cost-savings than was before? And that now, a lesser quality of care would be given?

Surely all these are possible outcomes, but how likely are multi-millionaires to accept bad medical care? How likely are sports team to compromise the health of their employees who make them all their money? Won't a contract for medical care specify the quality and cost up front, with appropriate punishments for not meeting the contract? If so, what's there to complain about?

In fact, some professional athletes are terribly concerned about the new arrangements, in spite of finding their medical care far more than adequate:

Mets pitcher Tom Glavine said he was satisfied with the care provided by the Mets' doctors but concerned about the principles of the new financial model. "Potentially, it's an issue that could be disturbing or warrant concern," he said. "You'd like to think the team is getting you the best possible care and you're not just treated by whoever gives the most money."
Let me put Mr. Glavine's words into a different context:

As a fan, you'd like to think the team is presenting you with the best possible pitching, and you're not just treated to whoever makes the most money for the team.

But, I submit, if you think that, you're absolutely clueless.

In sports and medicine, putting together the best possible team--the one the wins the title or has the best record in saving lives--is a surefire way to become rich and famous.

Some say that fielding a top-notch team is only possible with an enormous salary fund. Others say you can do so by picking and choosing lower-cost options wisely. We've seen winning sports teams come from both management philosophies. How about medical teams?

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Check out doctors bartering healthcare services in this struggling economy.


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on May 18, 2004 10:51 AM.

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