Monday, October 27, 2008

Rhetoric Rising

Wow, can't believe it's been three weeks since I posted. Over these weeks, Keith and I have been immersed in the political rhetoric keeping our attenae up for the golden moments when a real discussion of the healthcare issues we live with daily bubble up to the top of the candidates' messaging. As you all know, those are rare moments indeed.

Without a doubt, the economic crisis is deservedly the overarching message delivered in multiple forms as the 2008 presidential election builds to its (vain)glorious finish. Like all Americans we are acutely aware of the rippling impact of the economic meltdown. What has me scratching my head in confusion, is why the candidates seemingly separate the country's fiscal health from its physical health in their campaign stops.

I got the following facts from the National Coalition on Health Care website. There is much more information there, these are the points with which I found myself nodding my head in agreement:

  • In a Wall Street Journal-NBC Survey almost 50 percent of the American public say the cost of health care is their number one economic concern.
  • Rising health care costs is the top personal pocketbook concern for Democratic voters (45%) and Republicans (35%), well ahead of higher taxes or retirement security
  • One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying for medical care during the past year, up 7 percentage points over the past nine years. Nearly 30 percent say someone in their family has delayed medical care in the past year, a new high based on recent polling. Most say the medical condition was at least somewhat serious.
  • Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of the uninsured reported changing their way of life significantly in order to pay medical bills
  • A recent study by Harvard University researchers found that the average out-of-pocket medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy was $12,000. The study noted that 68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance. In addition, the study found that 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses. Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.
  • One half of workers in the lowest-compensation jobs and one-half of workers in mid range-compensation jobs either had problems with medical bills in a 12-month period or were paying off accrued debt. One-quarter of workers in higher-compensated positions also reported problems with medical bills or were paying off accrued debt.
  • If one member of a family is uninsured and has an accident, a hospital stay, or a costly medical treatment, the resulting medical bills can affect the economic stability of the whole family.
  • A new survey shows that more than 25 percent said that housing problems resulted from medical debt, including the inability to make rent or mortgage payments and the development of bad credit ratings.
  • A survey of Iowa consumers found that in order to cope with rising health insurance costs, 86 percent said they had cut back on how much they could save, and 44 percent said that they have cut back on food and heating expenses.
  • Retiring elderly couples will need $200,000 in savings just to pay for the most basic medical coverage; many experts believe that this figure is conservative and that $300,000 may be a more realistic number

What is not on this list is the immeasurable cost in time and energy of managing post-crisis aftercare. As you know from this blog, Keith and I have experienced this first hand as we negotiated the paperwork, funding concerns, insurance requirements and, oh yeah, actual health issues over the 5 months since Keith returned home to recover. We are fortunate to have the support of family and friends, excellent personal caregivers, good insurance, interested health providers, and, most importantly, the ability & confidence to create our own best path to recovery.

However, all those pluses don't prevent me from falling asleep with an eye on the oxygenation/heart rate monitor to be sure that there are no indications of a restless night. Or making sure that the oxygen tube has not silently slipped off the ventilator because there is no alarm built in to alert you of that situation. (I emailed the company about this the first time it happened in the hosptial. Their reply? "Yes, that's a problem. No, we have no plans to do anything about it."). Or knowing that every piece of paper that comes through the door takes about 20 minutes of your life that you'll never get back. Or any number of other things that can happen to slow the recovery process as we, like far too many American citizens, practice unlicensed medicine managing machines and medications.

Yet, with all that said, we are still firmly in the category of the lucky ones. Keith is healing faster than anyone anticipated (except for him, of course, lol). We have weathered the economic storms and are fortunate to be in Austin which was recently named the best place to ride out the recession. I can do my work from home so I'm not away from the house for long periods of time and Keith has been able to continue his business life from the comfort of bed (much like the European royalty in the Middle Ages).

Without a doubt, we are the exception to many, many rules. Of course we have adapted our life to meet the new responsibilities, but haven't been forced completely off track. The reality is that most folks have been or are being beaten by the healthcare system. They have been forced to compromise their financial resources to maintain their physical health. Every day brings a new short-term choice that sacrifices long-term sustainability. While the dollar cost of those decisions is painfully measurable, the emotional strain is exponential and has a dangerous ripple effect. Once the fundamentals of your world are eroded, the rest falls rapidly.

The United States is the most powerful country in the world and, as noted on the National Coalition on Health Care website, experts agree that our health care system is riddled with inefficiencies, excessive administrative expenses, inflated prices, poor management, and inappropriate care, waste and fraud. These problems significantly increase the cost of medical care and health insurance for employers and workers and affect the security of families. As the 2008 Presidential election winds down, it's time to ask ourselves and our candidates if we are being served. There is an old saying, "when you have your health, you have everything". So, by extension, is it also true that if you don't have your health, you have nothing? We have all worked too hard to have nothing and deserve leadership that understands and acts on the knowledge of the importance of a healthy citizenry to the sustainability of America.

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