Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dying (or Not)

Given the high cost of health care in the US, it is always a surprise to be reminded of how we stack up against other developed countries when it comes to results. Today’s Washington Post article underscored yet another area where we are losing ground, ranking the US dead last among 19 developed countries in terms of preventable deaths.

And we wonder just how can that be? It would be one thing to be paying a lot but continuing to be in first place, but 19th place?

The article made the point that the numbers would look very different if they were based on those with health insurance, who continue to get excellent care. But among the rest of the population (and that percentage is growing), people are dying from diseases like diabetes before they reach age 50. Which of course leads me to think about the increasing incidence of diabetes in the US among people of all ages, often linked to an increasingly poor diet.

And what if we went up against the tobacco lobby and had an effective campaign to significantly reduce smoking in this country? That would probably eliminate a whole lot of preventable deaths.

The chart above suggests that 100,000 lives could be saved each year in the US if our health care system performed as well as those in countries like France, Japan, and Australia.

It’s discouraging to read that much of the increased cost of health care in the US goes to higher physician salaries, larger administrative fees, and higher prices for most medical services -- things that do not necessarily translate into lowering the number of preventable deaths.

So the challenge that the US faces as we try to dig out of the health care hole is to expand coverage, control costs, and provide high-quality care. This is the conclusion of Sen. Kent Conrad, one of the key Senate health-care negotiators. If we don’t want to remain at the bottom of the heap on issues like preventable deaths, we need to look around the world, take note, and fix our broken system.

Did I hear you say, “I’m happy with my health care. I don’t want to pay for all these other people.”??? Did I recently hear my dermatologist say, "I don't want any reforms."??? Did I hear my hip surgeon say, "The saw I used to fix your hip cost $10,000."??? Therein lies much of the dilemma.


Blogger media concepts said...

If anyone says "I don't want to pay for all these other people," guess what? You already do! When the poorest and the not so poorest of the 47 million uninsured Americans need a doctor, they go to the emergency room. They aren't turned away when they can't pay. This costs many billions per year. The rest of us pay for them, with both higher premiums (I think the figure is $1,000 extra per year per insured person), and higher out of pocket costs (one reason why those aspirins on your hospital bill are $8 each).

Thus, real health care reform that covered more people might not cost any more than we pay now, since the burden of non-payers at the emergency rooms, the cost of which is dumped on the rest of us, would be drastically reduced. And if we could get health insurance reform (or any other incentives, such as tax incentives, or education) that focused more on prevention on the front end, such as weight loss, no smoking, more exercise, and better nutrition, we could cut many more billions of dollars from our health care costs with fewer people developing very expensive conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. on the back end.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew! that felt better!!
Stress relief?? "T"

4:46 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'm with media concepts. I'm not sure how anyone can win with the "I don't want to pay for all these other people" argument when we already do. I do. I have insurance and it's really good. I couldn't complain about it if I tried, but it's not about me - it's about all of us and we need a plan.

Picking up prescriptions the other day, I chatted with the pharmacist for a while and discovered that he doesn't go to the doctor because he can't afford it. The deductible is too high. He just hopes he doesn't get sick, and he works in health care industry!

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also agree w/media concepts about the fact that we all pay for everyone's care as it is. Some of us pay more than others (e.g., I'm self-employed and have to downsize my plan to catastrophic only, now that my premium has increased to $888/month for just myself), but one way or another, we pay. I think we also need to deal with the obscene profits that some health care organizations (not all) achieve at our expense. I have no idea how, as a society, we should deal with the self-accountability issue (personally I can't see charging smokers more, or yoga practitioners less...). Such crucial matters!!


10:52 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Anon -- $888 a month sounds criminal to me! Either someone is profiting from this or else you are paying the way for quite a few people who can't afford care or both. It becomes increasingly difficult to dismantle a bureaucracy and change the long-standing mindset that exists in this county.

11:04 PM  

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