Economic downturn imperils the most vulnerable citizens in the U.S.
Hard economic times put the most vulnerable at risk
Notes on the news: A few observations about the latest CMS report on U.S. healthcare spending are in order. While the rate of growth remained low at 3.9% in 2010, that increase was still more than twice the general inflation rate, and total spending climbed to $2.6 trillion.
The report, published in the January issue of Health Affairs, casts doubt on the current cost-restraining ability of the nation. Just days before the CMS issued its figures, American Hospital Association statistics showed community hospitals posted a record-breaking margin of 7.2% in 2010 with more than $52.9 billion in total profits (Jan. 9, p, 12). Those results reflect, at least in part, the prices charged by U.S. providers, which are the highest in the world. For more on that, consult the comparative price reports of the International Federation of Health Plans. Here’s a link: bit.ly/ghnnke.
The most troubling aspect of the latest news is that the CMS analysts attributed the slowdown to the ailing American economy. They said consumers continued to postpone medical care. Declining private health insurance coverage— some because people have lost their jobs—and increased cost-sharing among employer-based plans squeezed consumers suffering from the effects of the Great Recession (or Lesser Depression). The problem is that this hurts poor and middle-income Americans. The less-fortunate may take a pass on needed treatment. They will eventually turn up in the hospital or doctor’s office acutely sick and as uncompensated-care or Medicaid cases.
And belated birthday greetings to world-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who turned 70 about a week ago. Many people know him for his best-selling book A Brief History of Time.
Hawking takes more than a theoretical interest in time. He is one of the world’s most high-profile sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and is confined to a wheelchair, almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak without the aid of a voice synthesizer. His longevity despite more than 40 years of affliction with ALS is extraordinary.
We mention this because in the mid-2009 healthcare debate an Investor’s Business Daily editorial opined that a person as disabled as Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance” as a patient in Britain’s National Health Service because it would regard his life as “essentially worthless.”
More than a few people noted that Hawking is as British as Westminster Abbey. He was born in the U.K., lives there, graduated from the University of Oxford and taught at the University of Cambridge, where he was named to a professorship once held by Isaac Newton. After the editorial was published, Hawking told the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
Americans in this election year will again be bombarded with assertions that healthcare is wretched everywhere else and that the U.S. is the best of all possible medical worlds. The misinformation will be disseminated by people who will try to blot out the truth that the citizens of most other advanced nations are guaranteed access to high-quality care at far lower prices (see above) and do not go bankrupt if they get sick. No country’s system is perfect, but many foreign citizens enjoy outcomes and life spans exceeding ours.
What do you think? Write us with your comments. Via e-mail, it’s mhletters@modernhealthcare; by fax, dial 312-280-3183.