Copyright Monopolies In The Middle Of Health Care Reform Debate As Well
from the all-about-the-monopoly-money dept
An anonymous reader sent over yet another example of copyright being abused for monopolist reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with “promoting the progress,” and actually represent a serious healthcare issue. I had no idea, but apparently the various “codes” used by doctors to classify every visit are actually covered by a copyright held by the American Medical Association, which refuses to allow any free or open distribution of the codes (known as Current Procedural Terminology (CPT)). That’s because the AMA makes about $70 million per year “licensing” the codes.
I’m having serious trouble figuring out what about the codes could actually be covered by copyright, however. They’re numbers corresponding to a particular medical service. As the post above notes, it’s things like “90801 Psychiatric Diagnostic Interview.” It’s difficult to see what the creative component of such a listing is that would allow it to be granted any sort of copyright protection. A simple database of codes by itself shouldn’t really qualify, should it? However, the real issue seems to be that Medicare and Medicaid have required the use of these codes, meaning that pretty much everyone needs to use them… and then has to pay up for them. While a court did find that this arrangement clearly involved the AMA misusing its copyright and noted that “the adverse effects of the licensing agreement are apparent,” the AMA did some legal tap dancing to get around the issue and keep things effectively the same.
So why is this bad for pretty much everyone outside of the AMA? It makes it that much more difficult to comparison shop between doctor’s services, since publishing such info can run afoul of the copyrights. One of the biggest problems in healthcare today is the fact that the true costs of pretty much everything are hidden from the consumer through a convoluted insurance system. The end result of any economic situation where the true costs are hidden from the buyers is that the market is woefully inefficient. But, so long as that inefficiency lets the AMA collect $70 million per year (double what the AMA makes from membership dues), it doesn’t seem to care.