Steve Brill's answer to U.S.'s medical bill problem? Expand Medicare

This week's issue of Time magazine contains the single longest written article in the publication's 90-year history, a 24,000 word opus by journalist Steven Brill on how the health care industry in the U.S. is bankrupting us all - primarily by charging outrageously high hospital bills.

Brill's methodology is brilliant: He takes up the case of several citizens who have faced outrageous charges on their hospital bills (with one notable exception), breaking down those charges line-by-line, and compares those charges with what somebody would have to pay if they were on Medicare, where there are strict payment rates that hospitals can charge patients.

Perhaps the most important word that Brill introduces that most Americans surely are unfamiliar with is a hospital's "chargemaster." This is a document (previously as big as a phone book, now a massive computer file) that list's every hospital's internal price list. These are the maximum prices that hospitals list for every single procedure or item, though how they come up with such high prices isn't very clear. And many (if not most people) never are charged for those maximum prices, but it's how hospitals get away with charging such outrageous prices to the uninsured.