Our healthcare system is seriously broken...
This is one of those things that's been eating away at me all week, so I'm going to vent here...
My two nieces were down at Disneyland last week, having a magical time. They're in the 25 - 35 age range, so we're not talking 7 and 10 with adult supervision. On Monday of this week, it was hot, very crowded, and they had been going hard hitting rides and attractions. While in the Haunted Mansion ride, Jess started to feel light-headed. After they got out, they sat down on a bench to take a rest. Moments later, Jess had a seizure. Courtney got help, Disney went into action, ambulance, stretcher, the whole nine yards. Once in the hospital, they started to run a battery of tests along with a CAT scan. All that showed... nothing. The only clue as to a possible issue was the presence of an enzyme that often indicates a heart attack, but there were no other signs. An aunt and uncle who live down there were able to head over to the hospital and prepare to take her home, but it was late and the doctor wouldn't be able to see her until the morning. Oh, and did I say she was in the ICU during this time?
Jess's sister and aunt leave, and Jess was there by herself. About this time, a cardiologist shows up, and starts talking to Jess with a heavy accent. She can only catch about half of what he's saying, but the bottom line is that he tells her she's had a heart attack, could end up dying, and they have to do an angiogram the next morning. Not the thing to hear when you've had a really bad day, and you're there all alone trying to process this news... and your parents are freaking out up here in Oregon. The angiogram takes place the next morning and shows... nothing. She gets clearance to fly home, leaves the hospital, and both of them get home on Wednesday.
Here's where I start getting irritated... When they're getting ready to check her out, they present her with the bill... all $55.000 of it. She'd just started a new job and isn't yet covered on the new plan. In the course of 48 hours, she's gone from living on a very thin budget to being $55,000 in debt. Imagine then how she feels when the administrator tells her it's too bad she wasn't hispanic, as they wouldn't charge her anything. HUH? BUT... if she can come up with payment within 10 days, they'll cut the bill by 80% and she'll only owe $3000.
Think about this... somehow a hospital can bill you $55,000, yet be willing to settle for $3,000 for immediate payment. In some cases, you might not get charged at all. If all this had happened to me (who has insurance), I would have been billed the $55,000, paid maybe $200 in co-payments, and the insurance company would have paid most of the remainder.
The hospital put her on Plavix (which I can sort of see), as well as a blood pressure medication, even though her blood pressure when laying down was 109 over something equally low. They even told her that she'd have to be careful, as too much of the drug could cause her to pass out from low blood pressure. Name brand drugs for this 48 hour experience... over $400.
We are subject to a health care system that, without warning, can bankrupt you in less than two days if you're out of a job. Or God forbid that you work 30 hours a week at Wal-mart and you don't qualify for health benefits any longer. The drug companies are driven by Wall Street profits, so they "have" to charge high rates to meet those growth projections. Hospitals have state-of-the-art technology that no one can afford without insurance. Doctors expect high salaries and often need them to pay off educational loans and malpractice insurance. Health insurance companies have to raise rates to pay for the level of usage of their membership, as well as to account for the spiraling cost of medical care. If it's a for-profit insurance company, they have Wall Street expectations to meet too. Health care is one of the few things we "purchase" where we have no clue as to how much things cost, we have little to no control over what's being put in our "shopping cart", and we only find out what we owe when we're finished.
As we debate health care reform, it's obvious that someone will get hurt or will cease to exist if meaningful change is to happen. Single-payer systems will hurt insurance companies, capped pricing will hurt doctors, hospitals, medical manufacturers, and drug companies. Do I trust the government to administer a system? It wouldn't be my first choice. Conversely, I'm beginning to think that our system is far less appealing than systems in Canada or England. And don't preach to me about that being socialism (bad) over capitalism (good). I'm guessing my niece isn't viewing capitalism too fondly right now. And if you want to see where capitalism leads in pharmaceuticals, read Blood Feud and then talk to me about how competition drives down prices and inefficiencies in the market.
I don't have any easy answers, because there *are* no easy answers. I also do not place the blame solely on doctors, drug companies, or insurance companies. There's plenty of blame to go around. All I know is that those with the power and money seem to be perfectly happy with the status quo, and those who are at risk are being ignored. All the political debate and rhetoric is doing nothing more than reinforcing the polar extremes that exist in our society. Nobody seems to want a solution for all. Rather, they want a solution that doesn't lead to any sacrifice on their part. Unless that changes, nothing else will change except by extreme measures that will hurt everyone.
I'll admit I fear for the future of our country...