Unhealthy At Any Speed

I doubt there are many people who need reminders about how much health care is costing us. If there are any such buried heads, they’ve no need to look far for the signs of an untenable system. Reuters, by way of HuffPo, reports that around 60% of US personal bankruptcies are due to medical costs. That number has increased by fifty percent in just six years. The real kicker: more than 75% of those people had health insurance but were still dragged under by medical bills. The study, conducted by Harvard Law, Harvard Medical School, and Ohio University, appears in full in the American Journal of Medicine.

‘Using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92 percent of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5,000, or 10 percent of pretax family income,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Most medical debtors were well-educated, owned homes and had middle-class occupations.'”

I think ‘were’ is the operative word there: were middle-class. Now they’re screwed because that’s what happens to you when you get sick in America.

‘Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy,’ Harvard’s Dr. David Himmelstein, an advocate for a single-payer health insurance program for the United States, said in a statement.

‘For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection,’ he added.”

I learned in the 2008 campaign that Harvard is elitist, and I shouldn’t be impressed by the credential, but, dammit, I still am. Some of the smartest people in the world end up there, and I’m swayed by their opinions. When a Harvard doctor can show that we’re being harmed, financially if not medically, by our health insurance system, I think we should listen.

For those who remain unimpressed by Ivy League pinheads, listen to some reggaler fokes. The New York Times had a piece yesterday, reported from Rocky Mount on people who are unable to afford their medications, even with cheap generics and Medicaid benefits.

In downtrodden communities like Rocky Mount, where unemployment has doubled to 14 percent in a year, the recession has heightened the struggle. National surveys consistently find that as many as a third of respondents say they are not complying with prescriptions because of cost, up from about a fourth three years ago. …

Dr. Daniel C. Minior, who directs the emergency department at Nash General, said he was increasingly hearing from patients that they had lost jobs and could not afford medications. ‘The worrisome aspect is that it’s even occurring among younger and working-age people,’ Dr. Minior said. ‘That’s not something we saw before.'”

Well, they better figure sumthin out, over there to Rocky Mount, hadn’t they? Because the House is looking to slash the budget and Joe the Plumber is gonna make sure they do. (What the hell does an Ohio plumber care about NC taxes? I guess the mental patients who aren’t getting treated won’t make it to his neck of the woods, so he really doesn’t care.) Can we go on like this? For how long? When health care is a millstone around the necks of insured people, aren’t we just about to go under? We’re like the pharmacy customers in Rocky Mount.

Similarly, Robert E. Brown, 60, who has heart disease and emphysema, said he regularly told the pharmacists at Almand’s to reshelve his prescriptions after being quoted prices of $100 or more. ‘I just hand them back,’ he said. ‘I take the ones I can afford, and then trust in the Lord.'”

Should we really be entrusting our health to the Lord? I thought that’s why He created Harvard Medical School. Signs from that venerable institution point to the need for a national system, is anyone paying attention?


  1. old social worker

    June 4, 2009 at 9:50 am

    A couple of years ago a local hospital administrator told me that we will one day have Medicare for all, but not before Big Insurance and Big Pharma squeeze every last penny possible out of the current system.

    Such squeezing will end when a critical mass of voters starts to unseat politicians obstructing reform, thus undoing the lobbying power of BI and BP.

    Considering the increasing number of strapped middle-class clients I see in my work, I’d say we’re getting closer to the tipping point.

    Too bad more have to suffer before politicians make the inevitable change.

  2. Paula

    June 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s administration is caving to conservative Democrats and Republicans on all this. The current proposal will leave the wealthy and insurance companies untouched while having the old, ill, disabled, and very poor–the beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid–receive less medical care in order to fund the proposed “basic” (that is, second-tier) public coverage option for those too poor to get private health insurance. While campaigning, Obama came on as pro-singlepayer; soon after election, he was for a public health coverage “option” alonside current health insurance plans, with this public “option” to be paid in part (about one-third) by “trimming” Medicare and Medicaid. Now he is suggesting a “basic” public “option,” to be funded entirely by cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Such cuts are rationalized, by budget czar Peter Orszag, as not really harming anyone since, after all, the Dartmouth Health Atlas shows that “less intensive” medical care (measured by number of specialist visits, tests, and rehospitalizations) does as well as “more intensive” care; however, the Dartmouth Health Atlas shows no such thing (and cannot, as it is a retrospective study of patients during their last two years of life, and so of course they all die at the end of two years, no matter how treated). In brief, what the “compromise” to which Mr. Obama has caved will do is to use the same pool of monies now funding Medicare and Medicaid to also fund the new public option. And a beefed-up Medicare commission of “health economics experts” will oversee Medicare cuts–the administration has agreed to this as well–probably without public or Congressional oversite. This is no “reform,” people; this is step one of evisceration.

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