It was clear from the first paragraph that this wasn’t your typical consumer report.
“I write this from the hospital,” John Stossel of Fox wrote. “Seems I have lung cancer.”
This was quite the revelation — one all the more powerful for its delivery in terse, Hemingway-esque prose. But Stossel, who said he “will barely notice that a fifth of my lung is gone” and that he will “be fine,” wasn’t here for a meditation on mortality a la Oliver Sacks. Instead, from the highly regarded New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the 69-year-old consumer affairs reporter quickly transitioned into a discussion of why his “hospital’s customer service stinks.”
“My doctors tell me my growth was caught early and I’ll be fine,” he wrote. “Soon I will barely notice that a fifth of my lung is gone. I believe them. After all, I’m at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. U.S. News & World Report ranked it No. 1 in New York. I get excellent medical care here.
“But as a consumer reporter, I have to say, the hospital’s customer service stinks. Doctors keep me waiting for hours, and no one bothers to call or email to say, ‘I’m running late.’ Few doctors give out their email address. Patients can’t communicate using modern technology.
“I get X-rays, EKG tests, echocardiograms, blood tests. Are all needed? I doubt it. But no one discusses that with me or mentions the cost. Why would they? The patient rarely pays directly. Government or insurance companies pay.”
“Customer service is sclerotic because hospitals are largely socialist bureaucracies,” Stossel added. “Instead of answering to consumers, which forces businesses to be nimble, hospitals report to government, lawyers and insurance companies.”
Stossel’s opinion wasn’t a surprise — he’s known for his libertarian critiques of everything from school vouchers to pornography to euthanasia.
“Government ‘help’ encourages poor people to be dependent and passive,” he wrote last year. “Dependent, people stay poor. Also, most government handouts don’t even go to the poor. They go to the middle class (college loans, big mortgage tax deductions, Medicare) and the rich (corporate welfare, bailouts to banks ‘too big to fail’). Instead of making government more powerful, let’s get rid of those handouts. Left and right ought to agree on that.”
But the widely shared Fox piece, in which Stossel praised nurses but criticized hospitals’ endless forms, antiquated machinery, ambiguity about costs and necessary fear of lawsuits, seemed to crystallize the problems with American health care for many.
“I’ve been a hospital nurse for >30 yrs and patient a number of times,” one commenter on Stossel’s Facebook page wrote. “Always frustrated by having to repeat the same info on paper forms. Since [the Affordable Health Care Act], I have a high deductible plan and all the care I get comes out of my pocket. I find it extremely difficult to enter into a market negotiation for price or even find out what a cost will be before I get the services. Govt has distorted our system that I don’t think I will will ever see a return to market forces in my lifetime.”
Known for his love of University of Chicago economist and free-market guru Milton Friedman, Stossel has also faced charges that his reporting is inaccurate and biased. In 2013, for example, the liberal media watchdog Media Matters criticized a video series called “Stossel in the Classroom” it said was funded by right-wing donors.
“The program now offers hundreds of free clips from Stossel’s shows and specials that claim to seriously address a range of academic subjects, including Art (‘Why does Hollywood Hate Capitalism?’), Biology (‘Debunking Food Myths’), and History (‘The Real Story of Thanksgiving,’ which explains ‘how the Pilgrims were hurt by sharing’),” it wrote.
Stossel’s criticism of his hospital stay, however, didn’t demand a deep understanding of Austrian economics or a love of the Koch brothers.
“I’m as happy as the next guy to have government or my insurance company pay, but the result is that there’s practically no free market,” he wrote. “Markets work when buyer and seller deal directly with each other. That doesn’t happen in hospitals.”