How the Beatles increased health care costs

I am greatly intrigued by unintended consequences, odd connections, and strangely related events.  In a book about health care, Thomas Goetz explains how the Beatles were to blame for our rising health care costs.  Back in 1955, a small electronics company named EMI bought Capitol Records, which in 1966 signed a new British group called the Beatles.  EMI made so much money from the Beatles that they hardly knew what to do with it.  What they did was to invest it in some experimental medical technology that developed into the CT-scan, which could give 3-D X-rays.  This, in turn, led to other devices, such as MRIs and PET-scans.

While most technology, such as DVD players and computers, gets cheaper as it develops and gets better, for reasons that Mr. Goetz tries to explain, these medical devices keep getting MORE expensive.  In 1974, a CT-scan rig cost in the $300,000s.  Now it costs upwards of $2.2 million.  And doctors have been ordering super-expensive tests with these machines at a sky-rocketing rate. According to Mr. Goetz, this is a big reason health care costs have gone up so much.

So the next time your health insurance rates jump up, or you have to pay out of pocket for one of those tests that your insurance doesn’t cover completely, blame  John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

From success of the Fab Four, a key driver of health-care costs arose – washingtonpost.com.

Do you know any similar examples of strange series of causation?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    Well, there’s the story that goes around the internet about how the size of the solid-fuel rocket boosters on the space shuttle is dependent on the width of modern standard-gauge railroad tracks (4 feet, eight-and-a-half inches), which is based on the width of ancient Roman chariots, and ultimately on the width of a horse’s behind.

    It’s a nice story, but Snopes says it’s bunk.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    Well, there’s the story that goes around the internet about how the size of the solid-fuel rocket boosters on the space shuttle is dependent on the width of modern standard-gauge railroad tracks (4 feet, eight-and-a-half inches), which is based on the width of ancient Roman chariots, and ultimately on the width of a horse’s behind.

    It’s a nice story, but Snopes says it’s bunk.

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    It’s a cute story.

    I imagine the quality of our CT, MRI, and other scans are just a little bit better and use less radiation than the old stuff.

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    It’s a cute story.

    I imagine the quality of our CT, MRI, and other scans are just a little bit better and use less radiation than the old stuff.

  • Carl Vehse

    Years ago, James Burke had a PBS series about the unusual connections of isolated events in history to everyday activities or devices. He wrote about several of these examples in a book called Connections (Little, Brown, and Co., 1978).

    As another example, following Louis Pasteur’s discovery in France during the 1860s that germs caused disease, public education and awareness grew about the relationship between germs and disease and the use of hygiene to reduce the spread of disease (penicillin, an antibiotic, wasn’t discovered until 1928). This education also resulted in a major change in the cultural and social-political life of the United States (and western cultures in general), and spurred many inventions and American cultural practices:

    The modern indoor bathroom, complete with a white porcelain toilet;
    Window screens;
    Flypaper;
    Linoleum (replacing carpeted or wooden) flooring, especially in the bathroom and food preparation areas;
    Safety razors (for clean-shaving faces at home; beards declined in popularity);
    Vacuum cleaners;
    Lysol;
    Drinking fountains, rather than ladle or cup next to a public water faucet;
    Cellophane, for wrapping food; municipal water supply systems and regulations to provide safe drinking water;
    Sewer and plumbing improvements and regulations, like the sewer trap;
    Refrigerators;
    Doctors washing their hands before surgery and using disinfectants;
    Dental hygiene (before the 20th century you had a 50-50 chance of surviving a root canal);
    The practice of washing hands before and using clean utensils when cooking;
    Short skirts… well, at least skirts above the ankle so that dragging hemlines would not pick up germs from the sidewalk or street.

  • Carl Vehse

    Years ago, James Burke had a PBS series about the unusual connections of isolated events in history to everyday activities or devices. He wrote about several of these examples in a book called Connections (Little, Brown, and Co., 1978).

    As another example, following Louis Pasteur’s discovery in France during the 1860s that germs caused disease, public education and awareness grew about the relationship between germs and disease and the use of hygiene to reduce the spread of disease (penicillin, an antibiotic, wasn’t discovered until 1928). This education also resulted in a major change in the cultural and social-political life of the United States (and western cultures in general), and spurred many inventions and American cultural practices:

    The modern indoor bathroom, complete with a white porcelain toilet;
    Window screens;
    Flypaper;
    Linoleum (replacing carpeted or wooden) flooring, especially in the bathroom and food preparation areas;
    Safety razors (for clean-shaving faces at home; beards declined in popularity);
    Vacuum cleaners;
    Lysol;
    Drinking fountains, rather than ladle or cup next to a public water faucet;
    Cellophane, for wrapping food; municipal water supply systems and regulations to provide safe drinking water;
    Sewer and plumbing improvements and regulations, like the sewer trap;
    Refrigerators;
    Doctors washing their hands before surgery and using disinfectants;
    Dental hygiene (before the 20th century you had a 50-50 chance of surviving a root canal);
    The practice of washing hands before and using clean utensils when cooking;
    Short skirts… well, at least skirts above the ankle so that dragging hemlines would not pick up germs from the sidewalk or street.

  • bdozer

    It seems that giving credit for the development of these very valuable albeit expensive machines to “unintended consequences” is misplaced. Can I take some credit also because I bought and still own “my fair share” of Beatle vinyl? May I humbly submit that sometimes we have difficulty recognizing Almighty God’s Providence, even when it smacks us up the side of the head? Could it be that God is working through the ever-changing, ever-fickle choices of fallen man in Providence, as one “who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure,” and this time throwing in a little humor by using the Liverpool gang, for good measure?

  • bdozer

    It seems that giving credit for the development of these very valuable albeit expensive machines to “unintended consequences” is misplaced. Can I take some credit also because I bought and still own “my fair share” of Beatle vinyl? May I humbly submit that sometimes we have difficulty recognizing Almighty God’s Providence, even when it smacks us up the side of the head? Could it be that God is working through the ever-changing, ever-fickle choices of fallen man in Providence, as one “who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure,” and this time throwing in a little humor by using the Liverpool gang, for good measure?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I don’t know exactly who is to credit, but having seen the amazing things that can be done with MRI, PET scans, and such, I’m pretty grateful to be paying a little bit extra to have them available. They’re a big part of why cancer surival is much higher in the U.S. than elsewhere–the ability to find a tumor the size of a pencil eraser or so.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I don’t know exactly who is to credit, but having seen the amazing things that can be done with MRI, PET scans, and such, I’m pretty grateful to be paying a little bit extra to have them available. They’re a big part of why cancer surival is much higher in the U.S. than elsewhere–the ability to find a tumor the size of a pencil eraser or so.

  • CRB

    Wasn’t it Ringo who sang, “When I’m 64″?

  • CRB

    Wasn’t it Ringo who sang, “When I’m 64″?

  • Tom Hering

    (1.) DVD players are cheaper, but not better. The $50 unit from Wal-Mart stands a good chance of failing in 6 months (but then, so did my friend’s new $400 unit – which he had to ship to Hong Kong for repair, because he didn’t purchase Best Buy’s added warranty). (2.) DVD sales have been falling since 2005, but DVDs remain overpriced – especially in light of the fact that they’re now considered something “second best” after the introduction of Blu-Ray. (3.) The industry is doing everything it can to get consumers to switch from DVDs to Blu-Ray, because there’s greater profit in selling $30 discs than $20 discs. Yet there’s little improvement in quality for consumers, unless you also buy a more expensive TV, player and sound system – upgrades most consumers have resisted (even before the Great Recession).

    All of which may lead to the unintended consequence of studios getting out of the disc business altogether in a few years, and selling movie downloads online instead.

    So, when technology gets better, who’s it better for? Not always you and I. Or the majority of us, anyways.

  • Tom Hering

    (1.) DVD players are cheaper, but not better. The $50 unit from Wal-Mart stands a good chance of failing in 6 months (but then, so did my friend’s new $400 unit – which he had to ship to Hong Kong for repair, because he didn’t purchase Best Buy’s added warranty). (2.) DVD sales have been falling since 2005, but DVDs remain overpriced – especially in light of the fact that they’re now considered something “second best” after the introduction of Blu-Ray. (3.) The industry is doing everything it can to get consumers to switch from DVDs to Blu-Ray, because there’s greater profit in selling $30 discs than $20 discs. Yet there’s little improvement in quality for consumers, unless you also buy a more expensive TV, player and sound system – upgrades most consumers have resisted (even before the Great Recession).

    All of which may lead to the unintended consequence of studios getting out of the disc business altogether in a few years, and selling movie downloads online instead.

    So, when technology gets better, who’s it better for? Not always you and I. Or the majority of us, anyways.

  • Carl Vehse

    European mapmakers needed accurate latitude and longtitude measurements to determine accurate national borders, over which wars could be and were fought. Determining latitude was relatively easy, but longtitude was much harder. With his improvements in the telescope Galieo proposed in 1612 that his discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter could be used as a cosmological and predictable clock for making longtitude measurements using land-based telescopes. Improving telescopes for such measurments and developing sufficiently accurate tables of the orbits of Jupiter’s moon kept various astronomers busy over the next 60 years, including one Danish Lutheran astronomer, Ole Christensen Rømer.

    From his observations of Jupiter’s moons and his precise calculations, Rømer noticed a discrepancy in the calculations which depended on whether or not the Earth was on the same side of the Sun as Jupiter or on the other side further away. In 1676 Rømer announced that this difference was because the speed of light was not instantaneous, but finite. Such a discovery was so shocking, for it meant that the telescope was, in effect, a time machine looking at stars from the distant past, that only a few fellow scientists (e.g., Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens) accepted Rømer’s explanation, at least until the finite speed of light was demonstrated by other means 17 years after Rømer’s death in 1710.

    Today, when we want to know where we are at we can easily check our GPS units which use Rømer’s discovery of the finite speed of light from signals received from geosynchronous satellites. The importance of the speed of light in other aspects of both classical and quantum physics is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • Carl Vehse

    European mapmakers needed accurate latitude and longtitude measurements to determine accurate national borders, over which wars could be and were fought. Determining latitude was relatively easy, but longtitude was much harder. With his improvements in the telescope Galieo proposed in 1612 that his discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter could be used as a cosmological and predictable clock for making longtitude measurements using land-based telescopes. Improving telescopes for such measurments and developing sufficiently accurate tables of the orbits of Jupiter’s moon kept various astronomers busy over the next 60 years, including one Danish Lutheran astronomer, Ole Christensen Rømer.

    From his observations of Jupiter’s moons and his precise calculations, Rømer noticed a discrepancy in the calculations which depended on whether or not the Earth was on the same side of the Sun as Jupiter or on the other side further away. In 1676 Rømer announced that this difference was because the speed of light was not instantaneous, but finite. Such a discovery was so shocking, for it meant that the telescope was, in effect, a time machine looking at stars from the distant past, that only a few fellow scientists (e.g., Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens) accepted Rømer’s explanation, at least until the finite speed of light was demonstrated by other means 17 years after Rømer’s death in 1710.

    Today, when we want to know where we are at we can easily check our GPS units which use Rømer’s discovery of the finite speed of light from signals received from geosynchronous satellites. The importance of the speed of light in other aspects of both classical and quantum physics is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    > Can I take some credit also because I bought and still own “my fair > share” of Beatle vinyl?

    What? You didn’t burn all your Beatles records when you “got saved” like my cousin did? ‘Course, he was a pentecostal…

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    > Can I take some credit also because I bought and still own “my fair > share” of Beatle vinyl?

    What? You didn’t burn all your Beatles records when you “got saved” like my cousin did? ‘Course, he was a pentecostal…

  • Carl Vehse

    From a notice posted on a university’s commonly used bulletin board:

    “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed… those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.”

    The impact of that notice, posted on the church door at Wittenburg University on October 31,1517, by a young professor, Martin Luther, is left as an exercise…

  • Carl Vehse

    From a notice posted on a university’s commonly used bulletin board:

    “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed… those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.”

    The impact of that notice, posted on the church door at Wittenburg University on October 31,1517, by a young professor, Martin Luther, is left as an exercise…

  • Carl Vehse

    Another example of unintended consequences from “How Not to Parachute More Cats” (Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, RMI, 1996):

    “In the early 1950s, the Dayak people in Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: they sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died, the malaria declined; so far, so good. But there were side-effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people’s houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT- poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats died, the rats flourished, and people were threatened by outbreaks of sylvatic plague and typhus. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the World Health Organization was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Another example of unintended consequences from “How Not to Parachute More Cats” (Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, RMI, 1996):

    “In the early 1950s, the Dayak people in Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: they sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died, the malaria declined; so far, so good. But there were side-effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people’s houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT- poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats died, the rats flourished, and people were threatened by outbreaks of sylvatic plague and typhus. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the World Health Organization was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo.”

  • DonS

    The story strikes me as apocryphal. At the very least, we can assume that these developments would have ultimately occurred regardless of how they were initially funded. As a patent attorney, I am often struck by how development of new concepts occurs in parallel. We will file an application on something that the inventor believes is completely new and unique, only to later find that several applications are filed on similar concepts at nearly the same time! Science is, by nature, corroborative.

    As for whether these scanning technologies have increased health care costs, I say YES! There is no question that they have. But they also have vastly improved care. Someone above posted that they enable us to find very small tumors and other anomalies, which is true. This discovery initiates a very expensive treatment protocol, which ultimately saves the patient, given the early diagnosis. In most cases, however, a patient once having had cancer will ultimately suffer a recurrence later in life, and will again undergo treatment at great cost. In contrast, in prior eras, a patient would be diagnosed much later in the course of the disease and often die prior to receiving a great deal of treatment. This excellent standard of care in the U.S. is one huge reason why our health care costs so much relative to other countries that have universal health care.

    Another reason for higher health care costs is that, because these expensive machines are available, they need to be utilized to pay for themselves. So, diagnostic tests are routinely prescribed, many unnecessary, for this reason as well as because of the need to practice defensive medicine in our litigious world. This is a not-so-positive feature of our current health care system, and I fear it also exposes many of us to far too much radiation during the course of our lifetimes, the outcome of which is not yet clear.

  • DonS

    The story strikes me as apocryphal. At the very least, we can assume that these developments would have ultimately occurred regardless of how they were initially funded. As a patent attorney, I am often struck by how development of new concepts occurs in parallel. We will file an application on something that the inventor believes is completely new and unique, only to later find that several applications are filed on similar concepts at nearly the same time! Science is, by nature, corroborative.

    As for whether these scanning technologies have increased health care costs, I say YES! There is no question that they have. But they also have vastly improved care. Someone above posted that they enable us to find very small tumors and other anomalies, which is true. This discovery initiates a very expensive treatment protocol, which ultimately saves the patient, given the early diagnosis. In most cases, however, a patient once having had cancer will ultimately suffer a recurrence later in life, and will again undergo treatment at great cost. In contrast, in prior eras, a patient would be diagnosed much later in the course of the disease and often die prior to receiving a great deal of treatment. This excellent standard of care in the U.S. is one huge reason why our health care costs so much relative to other countries that have universal health care.

    Another reason for higher health care costs is that, because these expensive machines are available, they need to be utilized to pay for themselves. So, diagnostic tests are routinely prescribed, many unnecessary, for this reason as well as because of the need to practice defensive medicine in our litigious world. This is a not-so-positive feature of our current health care system, and I fear it also exposes many of us to far too much radiation during the course of our lifetimes, the outcome of which is not yet clear.

  • Stephanie

    Well, I am fairly certain that Title IX was not meant to lead to a near extinction of certain college sports for men – like, say, gymnastics (down to 21 schools that have teams, from 200 before). Other teams have been hit pretty hard to. Swimming and diving comes to mind. Football teams, however, have not been affected at all. (Okay, that is probably not true. But the existence of football teams plays into the absence of men’s gymnastics teams.)

  • Stephanie

    Well, I am fairly certain that Title IX was not meant to lead to a near extinction of certain college sports for men – like, say, gymnastics (down to 21 schools that have teams, from 200 before). Other teams have been hit pretty hard to. Swimming and diving comes to mind. Football teams, however, have not been affected at all. (Okay, that is probably not true. But the existence of football teams plays into the absence of men’s gymnastics teams.)

  • DonS

    Stephanie: great example! It is often the case that well-meaning do gooders seek to regulate against what they see as a great injustice, only to engender an even greater one by their actions. The stated intention of those promulgating Title IX provisions was to force colleges and universtities to offer more womens’ sports. A worthy goal, to be sure. But, since it was another of many of government’s “unfunded mandates”, the net result, to achieve the required equality, was to force those institutions to proportionately reduce mens sports so that they equalled the lower number of womens sports. A sad outcome, to be sure.

  • DonS

    Stephanie: great example! It is often the case that well-meaning do gooders seek to regulate against what they see as a great injustice, only to engender an even greater one by their actions. The stated intention of those promulgating Title IX provisions was to force colleges and universtities to offer more womens’ sports. A worthy goal, to be sure. But, since it was another of many of government’s “unfunded mandates”, the net result, to achieve the required equality, was to force those institutions to proportionately reduce mens sports so that they equalled the lower number of womens sports. A sad outcome, to be sure.

  • cattail

    I sent this posting to my son-in-law-the-ER-physician. Here is his reply:

    “The 3D CT scans are amazing – they used to do a lot more exploratory surgery and hit and miss treatment to sort stuff out before scanners of various kinds became high quality. The problems is giving a CT to everyone who gets a concussion, has abdominal pain, etc…..but if one misses that one in a million concussion that turns into a brain bleed, or a case of appendicitis, oy vey, it’s a sure loss in court. So while i think there are some doctors who order them because they’re lazy or their clinical skills aren’t that good, most docs order them to help rule out that one in a million chance bad occurence and (at least subconsciously) to CYA. Of course the radiation exposure, esp in younger folks and esp. children, could be more likely to cause cancer than a 1 in a million brain bleed….”

    The CT scanners in use today are far more complex (and obviously more expensive) than the early ones and, as noted, reduce the need for a lot of exploratory surgery (possibly just as expensive and definitely a lot riskier). Of course there is also the defensive medicine problem!

  • cattail

    I sent this posting to my son-in-law-the-ER-physician. Here is his reply:

    “The 3D CT scans are amazing – they used to do a lot more exploratory surgery and hit and miss treatment to sort stuff out before scanners of various kinds became high quality. The problems is giving a CT to everyone who gets a concussion, has abdominal pain, etc…..but if one misses that one in a million concussion that turns into a brain bleed, or a case of appendicitis, oy vey, it’s a sure loss in court. So while i think there are some doctors who order them because they’re lazy or their clinical skills aren’t that good, most docs order them to help rule out that one in a million chance bad occurence and (at least subconsciously) to CYA. Of course the radiation exposure, esp in younger folks and esp. children, could be more likely to cause cancer than a 1 in a million brain bleed….”

    The CT scanners in use today are far more complex (and obviously more expensive) than the early ones and, as noted, reduce the need for a lot of exploratory surgery (possibly just as expensive and definitely a lot riskier). Of course there is also the defensive medicine problem!


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