“$430 Million Proton Beam Center War” – latest chapter playing out in San Diego

I have written many times on this blog about one shining example of the medical arms race – the slow (some would say not so slow), steady, proliferation of huge and hugely expensive proton beam radiation facilities in medical centers in the US. I have written about how the proliferation never seems to occur in single units – rarely just one per town – but almost always two simultaneously – the medical arms race among health care institutions and providers at play.

The latest chapter is playing out in San Diego, as captured by HealthLeaders Media Online senior editor Cheryl Clark. Excerpts:

“As members of the debt reduction “super committee” wrestle to slice $400 billion from Medicare over 10 years, I wonder what they might say about the $430 million proton beam center war now being waged a few miles from my home in San Diego.

This nearly half a billion dollar investment in proton therapy is a big part of what’s wrong–in a microcosm–with the healthcare system.

Leaders of two healthcare powerhouses here — Scripps Health and UC San Diego Medical Center — each want their system’s name on their own cyclotron building. So each hospital is proceeding with massive construction projects five miles apart.

I asked members of Scripps’ proton beam team whether the situation suggests the need for another certificate of need system, in which a hospital’s plans to acquire expensive, redundant technologies would be subject to agency approval.

Of course that won’t happen, they say.

It leaves one to wonder how this looks as the nation struggles to cut waste anywhere it can. And again, I wonder what that supercommittee might say about all of this.”

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