Guy Adams: Jackson case fuels healthcare debate

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

The trial of Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, who is likely to be imminently prosecuted for manslaughter, may highlight an issue which has been strangely overlooked during the healthcare debate that still dominates the US news agenda.

In all the name-calling, real-politicking and hysterical "town hall" meetings (most of which take place in cities) regarding this testy subject, no one has yet pointed out that Dr Murray, and all the other private medics the nation relies on, operate under a constant conflict of interest.

It is as follows: if I go to an American doctor suffering from, say, a sore throat, his financial return from our meeting gets bigger the more medication he gives me. If the man in a white coat talks me into major treatment, he will really cash in, regardless of whether that treatment is in my best interests. Visiting the doctor, in other words, becomes a bit like seeing a dodgy Cockney mechanic: you must pretend to know what's wrong, be careful to avoid unnecessary repairs and try not to get ripped off when the bill appears.

The other day, I had a routine dental check-up. Having poked around in my mouth and found nothing amiss, the quack informed me that he would like to X-ray my skull 15 times as a "precautionary measure." It cost my insurer more than $1,500. So far as I can make out, this was treatment for treatment's sake: expensive, barely necessary and potentially dangerous. It happens all the time.

Something similar, albeit on a terrible scale, killed Michael Jackson who, according to police reports, suffered a massive cardiac arrest after being given a bizarre array of prescription drugs.

Dr Murray's eventual trial should therefore keep America's healthcare debate bubbling away. Whatever the verdict, it is likely to demonstrate that, under a "socialised" system like the NHS in Britain, the late King of Pop might very well have lived.

Dead reckoning for Monroe

Elsewhere in the world of dead celebrities, a crypt above the remains of Marilyn Monroe, at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, was sold on eBay this week for an extraordinary $4.5m.

The tomb's current occupant is Richard Poncher, whose widow, Elsie, 81, said she was hoping to pay off the outstanding mortgage on her home in Beverly Hills.

She has succeeded, with money to spare. But you have to feel sorry for her late husband, whose body is now to be moved. Mr Poncher, an entrepreneur, bought the crypt from Joe DiMaggio when the baseball player was in the midst of his divorce from Monroe in 1954. Before he died in 1986, Mr Poncher asked to be laid face down in his coffin, so he might gaze down on Monroe for all eternity.