As hype mars health care, Comedian John Oliver shows why skepticism’s needed

Who can you believe these days for health news?

  • A biotech company that promised the stars when it comes to one of the most common medical diagnostics—it promised cheaper, faster, more convenient blood testing—has, instead, retracted tens of thousands of its results that doctors and patients had depended on for two years. The Wall Street Journal (its story is behind a paywall) first reported this gaffe by Theranos. The paper has dogged the gee-whiz Silicon Valley start-up that Wall Street adored, even as it kept hidden the medical technology that it asserted was such an advance. Its claims fell apart as journalists and regulators, especially from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, demanded to see the data behind the hype.
  • In case you haven’t heard about astro-turfing, it’s the political practice of pretending in public policy debates to be grass-roots advocates for a cause, when, in reality, you’re an organized, well-funded campaign by a powerful interest group. Stat, an online health news site, says the hospital industry is astro-turfing the insurance industry in at least five states, including Virginia, vigorously condemning and opposing insurers’ many proposed mergers. Whether such insurer consolidations benefit health care, especially patient-consumers, is up for debate and intense legislative and regulatory oversight. But Stat points out that if there are fewer insurers, these bigger outfits will have more market clout—and, to wring more cost-savings that benefit their financial bottom lines, they may negotiate even more ferociously with hospitals over prices. It’s not new, of course, for players in the industry to bang each other over the head like this. It sure would help us all, as voters, taxpayers, and consumers if they didn’t disguise who they are and what they want, right?

But, as I’ve written before, hype, and yes, chicanery, seem increasingly prevalent in health care these days.

Cheers, though, to broadcast satirist John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight for a brilliant rip on pervasive, bad information on medicine and science. It’s worth watching, as is Oliver’s show.

As Oliver memorably says, it would be wrong to conclude that science is BS, but it’s definitely true that a lot of BS masquerades as science.

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