Tuesday night Eastern Standard Time, President Obama addressed a joint session of congress in an effort to outline his plan on managing the current economic crisis and to praise legislators for their quick actions in getting the US$ 787 Billion stimulus package passed. Obama told congress that he would eliminate all wasteful spending from the budget (line by line no less), create a new and decisive policy for Iraq and Afghanistan, pass initiatives to create or save approximately 5.5 million American jobs, and that he would take immediate action on dealing with the massive costs of modern healthcare.
While one can be slightly optimistic about the rapid response from the new administration with regards to the myriad of current economic, political, and social woes plaguing the
You see, according to a Department of Health and Human Services report, released yesterday, healthcare costs during 2009 will average approximately US$ 8,000 per American. Remember, this report comes before legislators have met to discuss the issue, and with the credit crisis dominating most of the political agenda it may be a while before any concrete action is taken on health care.
Through no fault of his own, Obama has inherited a healthcare service which is woeful at best. In fact, the Medicare and Medicaid services are so overstretched that analysts forecast their insolvency by 2016 and, that by 2018 $1 out of every $5 in the budget will be spent on healthcare. Couple this alarming prediction with the fact that the number of uninsured Americans has reached a record high of approximately 48 million, and the whole healthcare outlook for the
What does this mean?
For a start, the current economic crisis has provided a clear indication that universal healthcare is not the answer; the system is struggling to cope with the 45 million people that it currently covers. Considering that the
It comes as no surprise that the cost of receiving treatment in the
Whilst on the campaign trail, President Obama frequently mentioned the need for radical healthcare reform. What was Obama’s major campaign proposal to reduce healthcare spending? Move to a paperless healthcare system where patient records are stored electronically. The US$ 77 billion in estimated savings was laughed off by industry analysts at the time, and seems even more ludicrous now, in the midst of the worst economic downturn of the last 20 years. Further to this, he has publicly stated on a number of occasions that he supports expanding the scope of Medicare and Medicaid to include increased numbers of low income earners.
Looking at the current state of the American financial system, and considering the afore mentioned DHHS report, it becomes fairly evident that taking the small step of eliminating paper from the healthcare system will still leave a host of other expenditure issues to contend with. Remember that 2016 is the estimated cutoff date for funding of public healthcare in the
Many American citizens will decry the insurance industry as to blame for the current healthcare fiasco, but this may be more out of experience with insurance companies, rather than any actual understanding of the issues. Health Insurance in the
This is the crux of the problem. And yes, it would follow that you do get what you pay for, and in the
Whatever the response from Obama’s government, it is clear that action will need to be taken quickly. The money is running out.
The New York Times is running an interesting story on young under-insured Americans during the current economic crisis. Regulars to this blog will be aware that this is a favorite topic of ours, and really only serves to illustrate that serious changes need to occur in the USA’s domestic healthcare and insurance industries.
From the article:
“My first reaction was to start laughing — I just kept saying, ‘No way, no way,’ ” Alanna Boyd, a 28-year-old receptionist, recalled of the $17,398 — including $13 for the use of a television — that she was charged after spending 46 hours in October at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan with diverticulitis, a digestive illness. “I could have gone to a major university for a year. Instead, I went to the hospital for two days.”
“Most family insurance policies cut off dependents when they turn 19 or finish college, and many young adults start out in New York cobbling together part-time or freelance work with no benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, a single adult can earn no more than $706 a month — less than what a full-time minimum-wage earner makes. Yet the average insurance premium for a single adult is $900 a month, according to a spokesman for the State Insurance Department.”
Read more of the article, entitled For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Healthcare, by visiting the New York Times website.
Its an interesting topic and one that bears further watching.
The Chinese government recently released a report which gives a better idea of the growing severity of the AIDS problem in the country. The figures from the central government’s Ministry of Health show that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death by infectious disease last year, killing 6,897 people in the first nine months of 2008. While the numbers may be a little stunning and more than a little troubling, there is also a glimmer of hope to be seen from the news.
The virus killed more Chinese people last year than any other infectious disease, with tuberculosis, rabies, hepatitis and infant tetanus ranking as the second through fifth biggest killers respectively. According to the health ministry, in 2005, out of all the infectious diseases, AIDS was the third leading cause of death in the country. The number of reported deaths by AIDS is not the only number to have spiked, as the number of confirmed cases of HIV rose to 264,302 cases, nearly doubling from 135,630 in 2005.
With the newest data in, China now has recorded 34,864 deaths from AIDS since the first reported case back in 1985. According to joint UNAIDS and WHO figures, there was an estimated 700,000 people in China who were HIV positive by the end of 2007, including 85,000 AIDS patients. By their account, this means that 0.05% of China’s population has been infected by the virus.
Until recently, the problem has been that China has been less than diligent in acknowledging, tracking and dealing appropriately with the problem, making the data slightly unreliable, even now. After all, it was only in the first few years of the new millennium that the government started enacting laws to protect the rights of HIV/AIDS carriers and patients as well as proactive policies to start dealing with the issue after realizing that the central cause of HIV transmission in the country is now unsafe sex. For a long time, AIDS was seen simply as an issue concerning certain subcultures in society, namely homosexuals, drug addicts and prostitutes. Because of the fact that these groups are, at least, frowned upon in most societies, there was no education or outreach programs, needle exchanges or anything else.
The problem is that because most of these things are taboo in Chinese society, homosexuals, drug abusers, and prostitutes or the people who use their services are often times married and can communicate sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS to their spouses. Another problem that afflicted China, like it has many countries without the proper infrastructure, was its blood banks. China had, for a number of years, operated on a system of paying people for blood donations, but the problem was that it started to attract unscrupulous people who would donate their blood despite the fact they already knew they had tainted blood. The hospitals were also in part to blame, as they were less than diligent in testing the blood before giving it out to people via transfusions and thereby infecting them, which is what happened in one tragic case in Heilongjiang province. Thankfully, since that time the government has realized this problem and sought help to develop better practices, changing the system to accept only voluntary blood donations, and also start education programs to teach people of the dangers.
So where is the bright side which I mentioned at the beginning of the article? It seems that the Chinese government realizes that as China develops economically, so too does it change socially. Instead of playing down and dismissing the problem demographics and the general change in social attitudes towards sexual openness and premarital sex, they are beginning to kick off education programs about HIV/AIDS as well as other STDs and reproductive health in general. It is in part, due to social stigmas involved that only 7% of women and slightly over 8% of men in China seek immediate treatment for sexual related issues, while more than a third never seek help. It was in light of this that China kicked off the Sunshine Project to Care for Gender Health on Sunday, February 15th 2009, as the government seeks to open up the previously taboo subject of sex to conversation. And they should be applauded for being pragmatic enough to disregard long-held social beliefs in favor of better health for their citizens through information and education. As with most things in medicine, the availability of information and the need for openness is often the key to making life as healthy as possible for everyone involved.
Imagine this; one morning while walking down the street, minding your own business, on the way to meeting your friends in the park, when all of a sudden a motorcyclist on the road looses control of his bike and crashes into you. This type of incident, while not pleasant, happens on a daily basis all around the world. We would like to think that help is given to the victims of such accidents in a prompt and efficient manner, especially in first world countries. However, the truth of what happens in the aftermath of a serious road accident is often scary enough to make a person drastically reconsider their views on the modern healthcare industry.
A recent accident in Tokyo, mirroring the example illustrated above, left a 69 year old pedestrian dead after a biker lost control of his vehicle. His death, however, has been blamed on massive failures in the Japanese healthcare service, rather than on the operator of the motorbike. Paramedics arrived on the scene minutes after the incident, but then spent the next 90 minutes trying to convince hospitals to admit the injured senior. The total number of hospitals that they tried was a shockingly high 14. That is, 14 hospitals turned away a seriously injured elderly man, and by the time he was admitted into hospital number 15 his condition has deteriorated so much that there was nothing that healthcare workers could do to prevent his imminent demise.
The biker? He was admitted for treatment at the third hospital paramedics tried and is now recovering from his injuries.
This is not the first time that this type of situation has occurred in
The reason for this state of affairs is cited as being due to the growing strain on the Japanese public health system from an aging population, dwindling manpower, and massive overcrowding. The situation is getting so bad that in the past 2 years more than 14,000 emergency patients have been refused entry and treatment due to overcrowding at various medical facilities. To make matters worse the Japanese government cannot legally punish hospitals that turn away patients while claiming that they are full.
The Japanese healthcare system is based on a form of universal coverage backed by a state run insurance scheme (rather than contribute your tax dollars, you pay for a universal “insurance policy” out of your salary). Under this type of healthcare service individuals are “guaranteed” equality of access and fees; certainly an admirable goal and one mirrored by a number of national health systems around the world. In reality however, these types of universal services are falling drastically short of their intended targets, especially when one considers the examples provided by
The question here is; if a first world nation known for its technological prowess, strong social services, and high quality of living is failing at providing adequate healthcare protection and services for its population, then what is happening in third world nations? Even leaving aside the third world, you need only look at the United Kingdom and the USA to see that the current healthcare objectives all over the globe are in serious need of a major facelift, and even then, the risk is high that patients will continue to be left out in the cold (quite literally) without the care and treatment that they need.
The proponents of national healthcare coverage will cite equality of care and cost cutting as the primary reasons for installing such systems, and with the financial meltdown over the last 8 months, private healthcare and insurance are looking like very unattractive options for a majority of individuals around the world. The problems associated with the Japanese healthcare service may just be regulatory in nature. In the
While private health insurance has received a bad rap, especially in the domestic
The simple truth of the issue is this, it doesn’t matter if you are covered by a private health insurance plan, or a national universal one, because healthcare systems all over the world are in dire need of an overhaul, and have been for quite some time. Perpetually rising costs and massive overcrowding are increasingly becoming the norm, no matter where you may be located.
For the average individual there is not much that can be done at this point in time other than to wait and see what action is taken by various governments, especially the USA.
With the emergence of the modern global financial crisis, a number of issues previously relegated to the sidelines of the political agenda have started to present increased challenges to individuals and the world. One of the major problems facing government and citizens alike are ever increasing healthcare costs. Medical inflation is currently growing at record levels, approximately 12-20% a year. One of the potential answers being posed by many governments worldwide is to create a comprehensive universal healthcare system. Universal healthcare, however, presents its own unique problems. While for some it can be viewed as a road to equality in many modern health care systems, others are of the opinion that the institution of such a system would stifle individual rights and liberties.
In Japan the government goes to the extremes of measuring citizens’ waistlines once they are over 40, so as to make sure they are within their waistline limit. The penalty of being outside this limit is compulsory “re-education” dietary advisement classes, in which you are told how to eat and what times to exercise. To some this would seem discriminatory, even reminiscent of an Orwellian 1984 society. However as the recession sets in, modern countries such as Germany, the U.K, Australia and New Zealand are looking at similar measures. Furthermore with the U.S looking at a possible universal healthcare system, under the new administration of Obama, it might not be long before Uncle Sam too is infringing his citizens’ rights and individual liberties, in attempts to cut costs.
There are those who argue it is necessary for the government to regulate its citizen’s diets and health when it operates a universal healthcare as it is the one who pays for the healthcare provided to these citizens. This seems to be the growing trend. In November 2007, in New Zealand a welsh marine cable specialist, Richard Trezise, was denied entry into the country as his high BMI was considered a possible future financial strain on the New Zealand healthcare system. This continued until his BMI was considered of “acceptable” standard. After returning home and slimming down to a more acceptable BMI, Richard returned and was granted entry. In Germany the government’s new, aggressive, anti obesity initiative labels those who do not cooperate with the campaign as “antisocial”. This is for their costing the government millions of extra euros in extra medical bills needed to service those individuals who are perceived to lead healthy lifestyles. In addition to this you can be denied access to medical facilities if you are not covered by a health insurance policy. Is sectioning off parts of the community not discriminatory?
If a universal healthcare came into action you would not be given a choice of plan; you are locked into the same plan as everybody else, regardless of your medical needs. Unlike in private insurance where you are given the choice of whether you want comprehensive health insurance or not. If a universal health insurance was initiated, you will, like every other citizen in your country, most likely have to wait for enormous periods of time to receive treatment. This is in part due to the heavy burden placed on upon public infrastructure that is based around universal healthcare, as there is only a finite amount of public doctors who can service the needs of all a country’s citizens. Unlike private health insurance where you need to wait minimal time to see a doctor, as you are treated to the best medical facilities on offer. A universal healthcare system also requires mountains if paperwork to be filled out every time you get sick. Imagine taxation form statements every time you got sick. Unlike private health insurance where in most circumstances all you need is your receipt form the medical institution where you received medical treatment. So that you get what you pay for? So it is provided at great ease?
It is not debatable that of course healthy living and eating is good. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and a little nudge in the right direction never hurt anyone. However, isn’t personal health a concern of the individual? Free citizens should have the right to eat, drink and live how they want. It is when these little “nudges”, like in Japan, lead to the “re-education” of citizens in that country, that this crosses a line. What are we really getting when we are covered medically by our government? Shouldn’t we have the right to choose what to eat and how to live?
In the U.S there is no fear of a restriction of rights due to a universal healthcare system, as the majority of health insurance is from private insurers. However with the new Obama era beginning, Promises have been made to provide a significantly cheaper national health insurance for the average citizen. Sounds great, but how is Obama going to provide healthcare significantly cheaper than the current price? Instead of tackling the medical insurance situation, the Obama campaign should attempt to strike at the core of the problem, the actual healthcare facilities, and the ever growing problem, medical inflation. If the Obama campaign could accomplish slowing medical inflation and actually lower medical costs this would allow insurance, to have lower fees and premiums therefore lower health costs for all Americans.
Attempts by the government to regulate citizen’s health, based upon the fact they are trying to limit costs, leads us more down the path to a nanny state, in which the government has control over our lives. However this path of loss of health rights is only applicable to those who are covered by universal healthcare. Those who are covered by private insurance will have the freedom to do what they want when they want, fully aware that in the event of the unexpected they will be medically safe. Freedom and sense of security may come at a higher price. However, this price guarantees us our rights. This price guarantees no discrimination. This price is guarantees fairness in price ensuring you only pay for what you use; and this price guarantees no dictation on how to live your life.