Devi Shetty keeps photographs of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi on his desk, and he’s obsessed with making cardiac surgery affordable for millions of Indians. But these two facts are not connected. Shetty’s a heart surgeon-turned-businessman who founded a chain of 21 medical centers around India. Every bit the capitalist, he has trimmed costs by buying cheaper scrubs and spurning air-conditioning and other efficiencies. That’s helped cut the price of artery-clearing coronary bypass surgery to 95,000 rupees ($1,555)—half of what it was 20 years ago. He wants to get it down to $800 within a decade. The same procedure costs $106,385 at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“It shows that costs can be substantially contained,” says Srinath Reddy, president of the Geneva-based World Heart Federation. “It’s possible to deliver very high-quality cardiac care at a relatively low cost.”
So how do I know there is a problem with American hospitals, clinics, and doctors. Simple. No one in the US shows any sign of this pressure. No one feels the need to try to lower costs to get more customers.
That doesn’t tell us where the problem is, but it tells us there is a problem.