Focusing on Medical Health Care

Almost half of the nearly 5 trillion dollars in medical and health care related activities can be accounted for in the US. It is obvious that our country has well trained professionals, outstanding technology and a vast array of medication designed to address health concerns. Yet, why is medical care so costly and problematic for so many individuals to receive?

The Growth of Medical Care

For most of the worlds more developed countries the medical field is one of their largest industries. If you count the money generated by medication sales, diagnostics, nursing homes, hospitals, physicians, and other ancillary activities it is quite easy to see why the medical industry accounts for 10-20% of a country’s gross production.

In the US alone there are nearly 800,000 medical doctors, more than 5000 hospitals and millions of health care workers. One of every dozen US citizens works in health care now and this number is expected to grow. Still there are not enough workers and facilities to handle the 20 million outpatients that are currently being seen every day. This staggering amount of outpatient visits does not include the average daily count of 4 -5 million hospitalized patients.

The vast, complex health care industry in the United States is one that attracts people from around the globe. Switzerland and Germany both have large medical industries, but these countries run their health care differently from the US. Could it be possible that our nation’s health care will soon be undergoing a radical type of change?

Answers are Difficult to Find

Is the answer to the current health care dilemma as simple as nationalizing health care for all? Will this possibility only make the situation worse? How will the medical resources be allocated among the various segments of our society? These are only a few of the questions that are waiting to be answered.

Controversial Topic

Today medical health has become a controversial subject among many groups of citizens. There is talk of overhauling the medical system as we now know it. We are also hearing predictions that the government will try to restructure the nation’s health care system. Although much of this rhetoric has been publicized for a number of years it seems that people are becoming more polarized by the possible changes that are now constantly making headlines.

The Senior Citizens Have their own Concerns

The elderly population in the US is keeping a close eye on what is being proposed because health care and medication issues are of great concern to them. Medical and insurance coverage for people 65 and older have undergone many changes since the 1980s. Most senior citizens are very vocal about their displeasure with the way Medicare is addressing the problems, and they are also worried about what the future might hold. The costs of health care and medication needs are extremely high for senior citizens as a whole. Every year they are fearful of having their benefits cut even further, and now they have new worries regarding medical care.

Groups at Risk

It has been just a few short weeks since Governor Sara Palin galvanized many citizens with her predictions and comments about “death panels” and nationalized health care. While there were many people who rallied around her statements, the mere possibility of such radical notions began sending shock waves through the nation. This was particularly unnerving to a large percentage of our elderly population. It was also causing concern among advocates for the poor and disabled. Even parents and caretakers of people with physical and mental challenges were becoming alarmed, and feeling threatened.

Future Allocation of Health Care Resources?

Could it be possible that Medical professionals would possibly agree to form commissions that would allocate health care resources to those they deemed most deserving? This thought was both frightening and “Orwellian” in prospect. A careful review showed that there was no written documentation that actually stated such possibilities, but this did not alleviate the fear and worry of many ordinary citizens. Just the idea that access to hospitalization or medication needs might one day be restricted was enough to generate small scale panic in many communities across the nation.

Problems, Problems, Problems

Medical concerns, health care and affordable medication plans are major sources of worry for everyone today. Insurance coverage is very expensive. There is a growing trend among companies to provide less employee and family benefits in order to cut costs. In some cases this is making it difficult for employees to participate in the insurance plans being offered by their employers. However a growing number of families are too cash strapped to afford health insurance premiums on their own. This is creating a “Catch 22” type of environment with people unable to afford the cost of becoming sick as well as the cost of being insured.

The Answer is Cooperation

It is hard to know where the main problems are within the health industry. Some people want to find fault with the high paid physicians and medical specialists and others point the finger of blame at hospitals that seem to be pulling in billions of dollars annually, yet are constantly complaining having too little money. Malpractice lawyers, government regulations and insurance companies have also played a part in today’s health care woes. The answer is not going to be easy to find, and every group associated with the medical industry will need to step up to the plate and help out.

Universal Health Care

Health Care: The History

Health care costs have skyrocketed over the last few decades. While there are numerous reasons for this, the bulk of these medical cost increases have come with advancements in medical practices and technology. Advanced procedures such as kidney dialysis, neurosurgery, MRIs, chemotherapy etc, cost money to provide. Rather than absorb these costs and go out of business, health care providers pass these costs onto insurance companies, who (also to avoid absorbing these costs and going out of business) then pass these costs off to their plan members through increased deductibles and premiums. An unfortunate consequence is this also means that those who need these treatments the most (often times the more elderly) become more expensive to cover. Health insurance companies adjust to this by either raising premiums or deductibles, or denying coverage altogether if the potential members appears to be too costly to cover. In fact, underwriting (researching potential members and deciding how much to charge in premiums and deductibles or whether or not to even cover them if it appears to be a loss) costs resources and money in itself, which again, is passed onto consumers through their deductibles and premiums. What this means is that providing health insurance only works as a viable business model if those who are in the greatest need it are denied their needed coverage (or charged premiums or deductibles they may not be able to afford). Insurance companies profit provide potential treatment to those who are likely to need it the least. Like any other business model, revenue must be maximized while costs are reduced.

Why Medicare Costs Have Increased

This increased cost in health care doesn’t stop with the private sector. Public health insurance programs such as Medicaid and Medicare are affected to an even greater extent. Whereas private health insurance companies adjust to rising costs by passing them onto consumers or denying them coverage altogether, these public programs don’t turn people away, or charge them higher premiums for preconditions. Add to this the fact that Medicare insures senior citizens; the most costly to demographic to insure (imagine private health insurance premiums for a 68 year old who is far more likely to need a kidney dialysis or cancer treatments than someone far younger). It’s the same increased health care costs that are driving up private health insurance costs as well as Medicare/Medicaid costs. The burden this places on Medicare doesn’t quite end here however. Beyond good publicity, private health insurance companies have little reason to proactivly offer real preventative treatments knowing that later-in-life illnesses will be covered by another insurer (most likely Medicare). So while private health insurers skip this cos, it’s Medicare that picks up the bill for this lack of preventative later-in-life illness treatment. Furthermore, it’s far more costly to provide these treatments than it is to prevent them.

Single Payer Health Care

A Single Payer system would effectively fix the bulk of these problems. As a non-profit organization, such a plan would have the benefit of reduced costs all around. Private health insurance companies spend a lot of money, time and resources underwriting (screening prospective members), and deciding whether or not to even cover them as well as going back and forth with providers (who shift their end of the costs back on the insurance who then shifts that cost to its members). Other costs include, advertising, paying dividends, well-paid CEOs and executives and lobbying politicians to discourage them from passing any health care bill which might reduce their market share or profit margins. They also pay for tactically misleading advertisements scare the public into believing horrific (though incorrect) things about proposed legislature. These costs are all passed onto customers by way of higher deductible and premiums. A public plan would forego these costs.

In addition to all of this, there would exist the advantage of having economy of scale. A Single Payer plan covering the entire country would be able to truly spread out costs per unit, to a far greater extent than any single private health insurance can (because of the number of customers it would have). And since the same plan would cover its members throughout their life, there would be real incentive to provide proactive treatments to later-in-life illnesses to avoid the cost of emergency treatments down the road. Other advanced countries have universal health coverage of this nature (or something closer to it, and less privatized than the United States) and are able to ensure their entire populations for less money per person, and health care consumes a far smaller share of their GDP. While many detractors will object, claiming that such a plan would be too costly, the US pays more in taxes for Medicare/Medicaid and government employee insurance as a percentage of GDP than other nations pay for their Single Payer Plan. People in these countries also have lower infant mortality rates and longer lifespans. Taiwan provides the perfect test case. Several years ago, Taiwan moved away from a privatized system to Single Payer (modeled after our Medicare system). The result was virtually universal health care coverage for a small percentage of their GDP. The United States already has the ideal plan in place: Medicare. It simply needs to be expanded to cover everyone.