1. Costs are rising out of control.
- America’s national spending on health care has steadily increased from $28 billion in 1960 to nearly $1.9 trillion in 2004 . As a percent of the GDP – Gross Domestic Product (what the country “earns”) – health care costs have tripled from 4.5% in 1960 to 16% in 2004 and this is expected to increase! (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)
- The health care spending increase cannot be explained away by population growth: spending per person has more than doubled since 1990 to $6,280 in 2004 (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation), outpacing price increases for all other consumer goods and services. Total out-of-pocket health care spending is expected to double from $251 billion in 2006 to $441 billion in 2016, or $12,780 per person! (Source: APHA)
- As the poor become poorer and the number of senior citizens (who are more expensive to care for) increases, more and more health care spending is paid for with our tax dollars: almost half as of the most recent count (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services).
- There are hidden costs as well:
- Millions of Americans are working two jobs – one job with low wages but health benefits so that they or their family has health care; the other one to keep the bread on the table, or gas in the tank. What is the cost to society of parents working two jobs to support their family – too exhausted at the end of the day to care for their children?
- The huge costs that employers like the Auto Industry have in paying for employee health benefits (Big Three to Sign on to Health Initiative, AP, Jan. 2007) is driving them into bankruptcy.
- According to Moody’s, retiree health care costs for 55 large U.S. cities increased by an average of 10% each year from 1999 through 2004 (Source: http://www.grsnet.com/pubs/NS-2007-02.pdf).
2. As costs are rising, quality is sinking.
- The United States ranks last among major rich countries in some very important areas of health care: access, patient safety, timeliness of care, efficiency and equity, according to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund (Source: The Commonwealth Fund).
- America is ranked last in terms of countries where all citizens have a regular physician.
- America also scores at the bottom among industrialized countries on infant mortality and life expectancy.
3. As costs increase, a growing number of Americans don’t have health insurance or can’t afford the health insurance they do have.
Nearly 44 million people in the United States (about 15% of the population) had no health insurance in 2006 (Source: CDC).
Who are these people?
- 30 % are adults between the ages of 18-24 (Source: CDC), too old to be covered by their parents but too young to be able to afford insurance
- Children under 18 (9.3% – nearly 7 million)
- Veterans – 1.7 million in 2003 (Source: Public Citizen) .
- People in between jobs
- The self-employed and small business employees
- People who are employed but do not have employee insurance and cannot get insurance in the individual market because of pre-existing conditions
- People with too much money to qualify for federal/state aid, but too little money to afford coverage
- An additional 10 million Americans had no insurance for at least part of 2006, raising the total number of uninsured to 54 million
What about the costs of uninsurance?
Uninsurance – not having insurance – means an individual is taking a risk for which we the taxpayers ultimately pay.
- Currently millions of uninsured Americans only have access to emergency care. Their hospital bills often go unpaid and it is not well-documented what these costs actually are.
- What is known is that most uninsured people do not go for care until they have reached “emergency status” – when their illness or medical problem has progressed to a more advanced and therefore much more expensive stage.
- Currently millions of Americans are working jobs they can’t stand just for the health benefits. Dissatisfaction with a job relates directly to reduced productivity.
Uninsurance carries other costs that are not merely monetary :
- Those without health coverage are 25% more likely to die than those with health coverage (Source: Institute of Medicine). This leads to 18,000 deaths among people under 65 every year – more than the number of people who die each year from diabetes (17,500).
- People without health coverage are 68% more likely to die when hospitalized for the same illness as those with coverage.
- Uninsured women with breast cancer have a risk of dying that is between 30 percent and 50 percent higher than for insured women.
4. American Health Care is more about who makes money than who receives quality care.
Our health care system, with all of its incredible technology and capacity for medical advances, has shifted its focus to the immediate bottom line.
- Long-term effects on individual health are not part of the account ledger.
- Insurance companies are determining who receives health care and how much because they don’t think professional health care providers should make that decision. They “reward” doctors for procedures rather than for total health outcomes.
- Doctors are leaving medicine or choosing specialties that are protected from the insurance companies.
- Drug companies only market drugs that will make them money.
When profit seekers run healthcare, when healthcare is an industry, then our health is seen as a cost, not a moral value.
Stay tuned for a post on how American health care compares with the rest of the world.
Article written by Emily Cleath.