“Paying Till It Hurts” author speaks on high cost of medical care

New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal, M.D., to deliver annual Bryant Lecture on Feb. 11

SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 7, 2014) — New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal, M.D., whose yearlong “Paying Till It Hurts” series investigates the complex reasons why the United States leads the world in medical spending, will speak Tuesday, Feb. 11, at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Her lecture, “Medical Prices in the U.S.: A Problem We Can’t Ignore,” is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the UT Health Science Center’s Holly Auditorium at 7703 Floyd Curl Drive in San Antonio. The event is free and open to the public.

It is the 11th annual Frank Bryant Jr., M.D., Memorial Lecture in Medical Ethics, organized by the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the Health Science Center.

A physician with 20 years’ experience at one of the world’s most influential newspapers, Dr. Rosenthal seeks to bring new understanding to a looming challenge facing the United States: unsustainably high medical costs, which threaten the health and finances of individuals and the nation.

Her investigation has led to a half-dozen lengthy front-page stories in the New York Times, with more on the way. The stories tease apart the tangled reasons for the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health bill: a fragmented system, opaque pricing, lack of regulation, item-by-item billing, hospital mergers and more.

The series considers the largest segments of medical spending: hospital and physician charges, prescription drugs, medical devices, procedures and tests. All the while, it asks why Americans pay so much more when studies have repeatedly shown that they do not get better care than residents of other developed countries.

“The intent of ‘Paying Till It Hurts’ is to start a national conversation about what medical care is costing us, and this country,” said Dr. Rosenthal, whose series notes that the Congressional Budget Office found if medical costs continue to grow, they will eventually account for the nation’s entire economic output. “Many Americans, and especially those with good insurance, are unaware of the true cost of medical care. But it’s inescapable. We’re all paying for it.”

And, Dr. Rosenthal’s series asserts, everyone shares responsibility for creating the current reality. That includes a health care industry chasing profits but also encompasses patients who do not consider whether a test or procedure is necessary because insurance covers it; politicians who have often shied away from finding solutions; and physicians who, by necessity or for profit, have become more focused on return on investment.

Ruth Berggren, M.D., director of the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics, said the discussion is critically important to every American and especially significant for Health Science Center students, who soon will be confronted with this system while trying to make the best decisions for patients.

“Being an ethical health professional means recognizing how the cost of health care affects patients,” said Dr. Berggren, an infectious disease specialist and professor in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center. “Those costs have restricted access to care for some patients, bankrupted others and consume a growing share of household and public budgets. We need to be conscious of how the decisions we make are influenced by this system, and how they reinforce it.”

The lecture series is named for Frank Bryant Jr., M.D., an advocate for the medically underserved in East San Antonio and strong proponent of access to health care for all people. Dr. Bryant co-developed the East San Antonio Medical Center and co-founded the Ella Austin Health Clinic, where he was the first medical director. He was the first African-American president of the Bexar County Medical Society and the first president of the C.A. Whittier Medical Society.

Dr. Bryant died in 1999. To honor him, the Texas Medical Foundation provided the Health Science Center with funding for this lecture series in 2002.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving National Institutes of Health funding. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced more than 29,000 graduates. The $765 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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