From the din certain people on the right have been making, they apparently think that the New York Times has the unilateral power to set American domestic economic policy. Someone really needs to explain to some people the difference between offering an opinion on a matter of public interest and tyrannically imposing dictates. Newspapers generally do the former. Very, very, very few people do the latter.
The pages of the New York Times featured a rather poorly-sourced, polemical piece by Eduardo Porter entitled “Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix.” He cites a 1984 study that found that for-profit nursing homes used far more sedatives on their patients than comparable nursing homes that were affiliated with churches, and therefore non-profit. The reason, according to Porter (citing other authors), was that sedatives are cheaper than caregivers, and it is better for the bottom line to dope up your residents as opposed to hiring trained staffers who can provide individual attention and treatment.
That sounds perfectly rational, actually. Is Porter right? Well, he only has the one study that was published during Reagan’s first term, along with a scattered assortment of other academic papers. That hardly builds up to a mountain of evidence indicting profit-driven nursing homes. There is a certain amount of common-sense appeal to the idea that nursing home administrators who are principally beholden to corporate shareholders have greater incentive to cut corners, and it certainly happens all the time. Nonprofit healthcare facilities, however, don’t exactly get to write blank checks for state-of-the-art care. Their motivation might be to stretch the money out until the next grant check arrives. Porter’s article raises some good questions, but does not give us enough information to state a definitive preference.
Of course, that doesn’t stop some people from going apoplectic. See, Porter committed the cardinal sin of saying something mean about the free market. The free market—sorry, the Free Market—is always right. Because shut up.
A Google search of the two authors of the 1984 study, Bonnie Svarstad and Chester Bond, yields a treasure trove of overreaction. (Incidentally, their paper, “The Use of Hypnotics in Proprietary and Church-Related Nursing Homes,” does not appear to be available online, so none of us can check Porter’s work.) Let us bring on the hysterics! Continue reading