Gee, Thanks, Mr. Vice President!

getty_rm_photo_of_man_on_exam_tableJoe Biden has been bragging on the campaign trail in Florida about a free health “exam” for seniors. What kind of “exam” is this?

What’s being touted is free wellness exams and colonoscopies without a co-pay. But as health policy commentator John Goodman notes, this wellness exam is extremely perfunctory—it measures the patient’s height, weight, body mass, and blood pressure, and the doctor may listen to your heart through your clothes. In other words, this “exam” is just a waste of your time.
What about the free colonoscopy? Well, it does say something about today’s world that a national politician would campaign today by offering a free colonoscopy. You wouldn’t think the voters would find it something to look forward to. In the old days, national politicians promised a “chicken in every pot.”
Let’s also keep in mind a study we reported on last year. Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it revealed that colonoscopies are dramatically overprescribed for the elderly. “Overuse is important for several reasons,” the study found. “Screening colonoscopy can have adverse effects, including hospitalization and death. Too frequent performance of the examination may shift the benefit to risk ratio by increasing complications without additional benefit.” Moreover, only 27 percent of all study patients with frequent exams had any symptoms that might have raised any suspicion of cancer.
One-third of patients over 80 received two colonoscopies within seven years, whereas Medicare guidelines say they should not be given more often than once every decade, so it’s also a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, even the US Preventative Services Task Force recommends no routine colon cancer screenings for those older than 75, and no screenings at all for those over 85. Complications for older patients include accidental perforation of the colon, bleeding, and complications from sedatives, any of which can lead to death.
At $1,000 per procedure, there is a significant economic incentive for doctors to continue performing colonoscopies as often as they can get away with it.
Compare this with the integrative approach toward preventive medicine, which focuses on the individual and tailors tests and treatments accordingly. It’s this holistic approach that has made CAM therapies so successful, particularly in the face of conventional medicine’s rampant failures.
As Gary Null has noted, the number of people who die each day because of conventional medical errors—physician mistakes, hospital-related illness, and reactions to FDA-approved medications—is the equivalent of six jumbo jets falling out of the sky. More Americans are dying each year at the hands of medicine than all American casualties in WWI and the Civil War combined.
So the next time a politician offers you a colonoscopy or an exam that is not really an exam—one that may or may not be appropriate for you but will make a lot of money for whoever gives it—stop and think, and make an informed decision instead of blindly feeding the healthcare money-making machine.

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  1. As for the perfunctory physical, I am usually weighed and measured by the nurse on the way to the examining room. And the doctor, if he doesn’t do it on his own, will listen to heart and lungs when I comment that he hasn’t done so in a while. These things are usually the norm for any office visit to the physician. So Mr. Biden is promising something that is not a special event. As for colonoscopy, I had one not too many months ago and was told 10 years for the next one. So I doubt I will be ever having one again. I am now 82.

  2. If doctors are going to continue asking people to get colonoscopies, Why not get it without a copay if the alleged reason is to prevent colon cancer? There are other preventative exams and procedures that are also offered without a copay as well. I see the point of your article that there are known risks with the colonoscopy, but should you not be educating the public rather than criticizing VP Biden? This seems like a not so sly political jab at the democratic candidate. Take your argument to a higher level. You have Democrats and Independents who support your positions. I would not want to stop supporting your petitions because you walk only on one side of the street.

  3. I see your point, but I think this article is over-sensationalizing the detriment of a colonoscopy. Let’s not forget that the exam also SAVES lives. I can also guarantee that the federal government is NOT giving away (“providing”) weekly or monthly colonoscopies to a single person. I think this article adds abit of scare tactics to the scare tactics.

    1. The point is that this is a Administration trying to ‘buy’ votes to the unaware. Medicare pays for a annual exam with no cost to the recipient and colonoscopies are covered too when the doctor prescribes them. So the concern here should be more that the Vice President is offering something seniors already receive. Hmmm, let’s see, let’s get a free cell phone with that colonoscopy! It’s despicable!

  4. I had a colonoscopy over a year ago and I will never do it again. The medication drink (one gallon which must be completed within 8 hours) removes all the bacteria from the colon. It took me over three weeks before I had a “normal” movement and this was only after using probiotics which were never recommended by the doctor..

  5. “Complications for older patients include accidental perforation of the colon, bleeding, and complications from sedatives, any of which can lead to death.”
    Gee why would our loving government want to cut our social security benefits receiving life short? LOL, perhaps.
    Anytime the government offers any “health service” free or not I run, do not walk, run the other way.
    By the way if you ingest about 50 grams of fiber/day you will almost never never have colon problems to include cancer.

    1. I see irony in your remarks. Anti-government, anti-public health care, but wanting to hold onto your Social Security.
      btw, if you really think the current administration wants to cut the length of Social Security benefits, what do you think the guy(s) who want to replace it really want? Social Security is complete anathema to them…they never got over its inception and they will not be content until it is gutted.

  6. I could not agree more. My Mom had almost perfect health until the age of 85. Then a doctor performed a colonoscopy on her. He found a couple of polyps and tried to remove them. He punched two holes in her intestines and almost killed her. Although she eventually recovered her health took a major decline after that and was never the same.
    I found out later than this doctor had done the same thing to many other people. The state medical society continued to let him practice. However, a local holistic doctor who had never hurt any one and was loved by his patients was driven out of practice by the same state society.

    1. Your experience seems to be a case of a doctor with poor training and/or skills. Based on my experience (and that of a few others I know), I tend to doubt it is a common case. Just because I have a bad experience with one plumber, I wouldn’t say that plumbers are all inept or that plumbing is an unnecessary / undesirable practice.

  7. Usually I’m in full agreement with ANH, and I not only deeply appreciate their informative articles, but I also share them on my social networks. However, this is one article I won’t be sharing.
    I have Kaiser Permanente (HMO) health insurance. My free annual exam is all but perfunctory. Aside from the above height, weight, etc., my doctor orders a full lab panel, does a thorough physical exam, and reviews my medical history and medications. If I’m currently having a problem, tests are ordered and either referrals are given or a specialist is called in while I’m still in the exam room. Now I realize that not all health care providers are this comprehensive. However, making a blanket statement like the one above could have a negative impact on health care providers that ARE doing their jobs.

    1. Although it is great that some people have insurance that provides wonderfully-thorough annual exams, I think the point of this article was to say that free exams being offered by candidates may not be all that great. Personally, I think this is yet another time that “less is more”. Until all American citizens realize and accept that the government cannot fulfill its promises—and that the government was never intended to do most of what it does—our country will continue to decline due to selfish apathy on the part of its citizens and greed and arrogance on the part of its leaders.

  8. These free exams are nothing more than a recruiting tool for more expensive procedures and medicines. The more people “checked” the more opportunity to sell your product. Its like this in my business and any other, unfortunately, what “they” are selling is often harmful.

  9. Instead of giving writers space to show how cute
    and clever they are at presenting their political
    view, how about finding real journalists that
    have background and real information on
    health topics regardless of who are what they
    are writing about.
    This was a shallow piece.

    1. Quite frankly, these exams can a bunch of poppycok depending on where they’re performed. They just kinda check you over, make no real diagnosis (its not necessary), write down a few numbers. The whole exam is a waste of time. Drs or companies get paid way too much. I know this because my spouse is a dr & has refused do “perform” several of these completely unnecessary exams at the place of employment, esp when the patient already has another dr. Seems like it costs Medicare around $80 or so. We are all for the PPACA, there’s a huge need for reform.

  10. There are many very ignorant people talking here.If you are younger than Medicare age-you just dont KNOW.If you are wealthy, YOU don’t know either.FYI, when we get older, and are living on SS & our fixed income, we APPRECIATE this benefit!Cancers caught early are more easily cured. Many seniors cant afford diagnostic tests.I have medicare suppliment insurance, but I still appreciate it.My doc NEVER listen to my heart “thru my clothes” and uses the wellness exam for a comprehensive exam.Does labs, too.She’s a GOOD doctor.If you go to a hack, or doc who makes $ on you, well whose fault is that?
    And if you arent grateful for free diagnostic tests, DONT HAVE THEM.I dont see what use it is to complain about a caring insurance policy.If your hospitals or doctors arent good, CHANGE THEM.You also have the right to die earler.You’re the master of your fate.Whining is NOT masterful! Grow UP!

  11. While I also generally agree with the concerns expressed on this site and its newsletters, I also have some concerns about this article – both as to its general tone about conoscopies and its unnecessary but overt politicizing of the issue.
    I certainly believe we need a complete transformation of medicine to orient it to what most CAM already knows…that we need to focus more on wellness / prevention and less on after-the-fact medical treatment.
    Yet I had a conoscopy, at age 60, and am sure glad I did. The polyps thereby discovered and removed were pre-cancerous and would likely have caused serious disease and expense if left unaddressed for many more years. Say what you will about docs being profit-motivated… but this was a case where an ounce of prevention / intervention was worth tons of cure.
    (And to those who argue simply for more fiber: Yes, a good thing…but I probably intake as much if not more fiber than even the most ardent fiber-phile, but there it was, those polyps! ) This probably just argues against using overly simplistic and sweeping generalizations.

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