Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The "Other" Crisis

Like many of you, I’ve spent the past couple weeks scanning news sites and listening to the television and radio, bracing myself for the next business collapse. Like many of you, my stomach churns when I think of the hit we took on Monday when the Dow dropped a staggering amount.

When I first heard about the proposed $700 billion bailout, my reaction was along the lines of, “Where’s the urgency and where’s the money for health care?”

How about you?

Against the backdrop of recent months where, despite paying a lot for health insurance, the bills are piling up while the range of services covered has steadily decreased and the thought of cutting back on tests and medicines to save money is fleeting yet tantalizing, this juxtaposition was—and is—particularly compelling.

While the financial crisis looms large and spans so many industries, livelihoods, retirement plans, and households, we’re already in the midst of what is arguably an even larger crisis, one of healthcare and chronic disease. And, as former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Dr. Kenneth Thorpe of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease discussed in a press conference call I participated in yesterday, it’s a crisis that threatens billions of taxpayer dollars—not to mention our health and quality of life.

Just as I can relate to the ensuing credit crunch and the aftermath of the market’s volatility because I own a house and a car and have retirement accounts tied up in stocks, I can clearly relate to this crisis. In my own circumstances I’ve seen how much more effective and economical preventative care (chest PT, for example) is, and access to quality health insurance is the most significant financial and lifestyle issue in our household.

A healthy population and healthy workforce equal more productivity and a better economy. Better health and wellness (though I could write an entire post on what exactly “wellness” means) are achieved through prevention and disease education. While this should be obvious and should be reflected in health policy, as most of us 130 million patients with chronic disease know too well, this isn’t often the case.

Just to give some context, consider some of the chronic disease statistics Thompson and Dr. Thorpe mention and ones that appear often in this discussion:

--Treatment of chronic illness accounts for over 75 percent of the more than $2.2 trillion the nation spends annually on health

--Treatment of the seven most common chronic diseases, coupled with productivity losses, cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion dollars annually

--Health care costs for people with a chronic condition average $6,032 annually - five times higher than for those without such a condition

And of course, these are just some of the numbers. We can’t forget about the millions who are uninsured, the many, many patients with inadequate health insurance, and the economic, physical, and emotional toll chronic disease takes on caregivers and family members.

But as we’re beginning to see in pockets, wellness and prevention programs do work—they improve health outcomes and disease progression and cut down on consumer and employer spending.

So while we can’t avoid Wall Street woes, we also can’t lose sight of the fact that this is an economic situation that’s been building for decades. One of the most interesting questions posed yesterday in the conference had to do with when we would see a “$700 billion moment” in terms of health care. News flash: millions of people are already living those moments already (and have for a long time), and millions of people can speak to the urgency of the situation.

The good news is that despite their vast differences (more on that later, I promise!), both presidential candidates’ platforms address chronic illness and prevention and wellness. Maybe this election will be the time when all the “billion dollar moments” and the urgency so many of us feel will translate into results…and like this current financial debacle, it will have to happen across party lines.

***
Switching gears, I want to point out that September’s Pain-Blog Carnival is up at How To Cope With Pain. Check it out, and remember that new contributors are always welcome!

6 comments:

Diana Lee said...

This is an excellent piece, Laurie. I've been walking around asking the same question: Why can we come up with a commitment for a bailout for the financial industry when we continue to sit on our hands where health care is concerned?!

I'm frustrated. I support the bailout because I think to do nothing would be disastrous. I only wish there was political momentum for a real change in the way we dole out health care in this country.

I'm lucky. My husband works at a second job (part-time) that covers our health insurance at little cost to us. He is a contractor and I'm disabled, so we would be SOL otherwise. I can't imagine how people deal when they don't have insurance. Life is scary enough when illness is front and center.

Maureen Hayes said...

Laurie,

As usual, this was an excellent piece of writing and provided much needed information on a topic we all live daily. As you stated, I have been concerned about the financial crisis, but I have also been living in crisis for years due to chronic illness. Having lost the ability to work, living on disability and medicare, and wondering if those programs are going to continue as we struggle financially as a country, I worry all the more.

I appreciated the link to The Partnership To Fight Chronic Disease, which had a lot of useful information. I wasn't aware they existed before this, so thanks for the good resource.

As Diania Lee stated above, it is scary without health insurance, but even with the minimum amounts I am drowning in debt with co-pays for both doctors and medications, and I know I am not alone! Something has to change.

Thanks again for another timely and important piece of writing!

Maureen
Http://Beingchronicallyillisapill.blogspot.com

Kerry said...

Laurie, What a comprehensive piece on this urgent topic. Sadly, it seems that problems must hit "crisis" and an awareness of that "crisis" to our leadership, for problem solving to begin.

Yes, our healthcare system has already hit crisis, now we need the governement and the public to "get" it. What will that take?

Each of us know, if we are not experiencing it ourselves, someone who is in bankruptcy due to insufficient insurance or lack of it. Each of us with chronic illness must cope to make ends meet in spite of piles of medical bills. Too many people have died due to lack of access to medical care.

I am fortunate to have a good insurance policy through my husband's employment. I am disabled and know that I am also just one step away from no insurance (if my husband were to lose his job).

I appreciate the links you provided in this piece--both for information and ways we can make our voices heard. Kerry

Em said...

What is going to happen with our health care system? If something doesn't change it will collapse. I just read "The Anti Inflammation Zone" by Dr. Barry Sears and he goes through the details and statistics of how it's going to fall apart. One way we can help prevent the collapse of the health care system is to educate ourselves and others on the epidemic of inflammation.
http://chronicillnesssurvival.blogspot.com/

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