Latest reports add more evidence about our cost, quality challenges
New reports add emphasis to the cost and quality challenges in healthcare
As if we need any reminders, it’s painfully clear that the U.S. healthcare system continues to grapple with some serious health issues. Yet another batch of recent reports reaffirms the fact that Americans are paying far too much for their care and health coverage and getting too little quality in return—trends that have been at work for decades.
Last week brought a high-profile report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust bearing bad news on health insurance premiums. It showed that costs this year resumed their historic trend line, with increases nearing double-digit territory, after some previous moderation.
According to the report, the average annual premium for individual coverage was about $5,400, or 8% higher than last year, while the premium for family coverage topped $15,000, or 9% higher. The rise in the cost of family coverage in 2010 was only 3%. This year’s increases outpaced general inflation and ran far ahead of typical pay raises.
Meanwhile, according to a study supported by the Commonwealth Fund and published online last month in the journal Health Policy, the U.S. ranked last in a study of deaths that could potentially have been prevented by timely medical care.
The analysis involved 16 high-income industrial nations, looking at deaths from 1997-98 to 2006-07 that occurred before age 75 from causes such as treatable cancer, diabetes, childhood infections/respiratory diseases and complications from surgery. While all nations in the study saw a decrease in the rates of preventable deaths, countries other than the U.S. saw an overall drop of 31%; the decrease in the U.S. was 20%.
Also last week, an annual survey by Consumer Reports showed that more Americans are going against the advice of their physicians and are skipping medications or other treatments because of affordability issues.
Of the 2,038 respondents, nearly half (48%) said they had taken costcutting measures involving their healthcare, such as skimping on drugs, forgoing doctor visits or delaying medical procedures. This year’s number reflects a 9 percentage-point increase compared with 2010.
According to a separate ongoing survey by Consumer Reports, lack of money to pay for medical bills and prescription drugs is consistently among the top financial concerns for Americans polled.
All of these findings certainly don’t offer the complete picture of American healthcare, but they do show major stress fractures for patients and providers.
As such reports continue to make headlines, it’s inevitable that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be targeted for more scorn. Critics will ask why the ACA isn’t improving quality and patient safety. They’ll also say the reform law bears most of the blame for the surging insurance premiums.
And they would be wrong. Sharing in this opinion is the CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to Drew Altman, who wrote an essay accompanying the report on insurance premiums, the issue is far more complicated than that.
“Critics of the national health reform law passed in 2010 like to blame everything but the weather on ‘Obamacare,’ ” Altman wrote. “But regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, its effect on premiums this year is modest. Most of the law’s provisions don’t go into effect until 2014.”
Altman said two popular provisions of the reform law—allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 and requiring health plans to offer some preventive service for free—together accounted for about 2 percentage points of the premium hikes.
No, the reform law isn’t the cure for the healthcare cost crisis, but it’s still potent medicine.