It’s perverse but the healthcare system in the United States is making you sick. Don’t believe me – then maybe you have a high-end plan with no deductible and full access and no ceiling. But there are not many of those and for the rest of us, I imagine your interaction with the system is as frustrating and stressful as mine – probably on a spectrum depending on your plan (High deductible plan or the more traditional Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) and co-payments.
Fee for Service Healthcare
The cynical view might be this is deliberate since our system remains firmly stuck in a fee for service model – healthcare providers are paid to do something…anything. From its original development, this made sense – our capacity to treat conditions was limited and the cost of these treatments in line with our ability to pay for them. But along this journey science and in particular the incredible progress of medical research got involved and we have been on a veritable tear of progress and innovation, or as the Exponential Medicine group would say Exponential progress.
There is a continued push towards a more robust and accountable model – Accountable Care Organizations have been set up and these models of total care and coverage and responsibility tested for effectiveness and economic effect. There is lots of disagreement on the success or failure of ACO’s and it is fair to say that the jury is still out. But intuitively we know that taking care of the complete picture and being responsible for the total care of patients health is better for the patient and for outcomes. I have seen it time and again where individual mandates or focus induce unwanted/unexpected/unintended consequences elsewhere in the whole system.
Discharging Patients Early – Unintended Consequences
Discharging patients from the hospital early typically results in better outcomes. Early programs that incentivized this behavior and rewarded programs that got patients out of the hospital early were deemed successful but failed to take account of the downstream impact of readmissions resulting from too early a discharge and subsequent complications for that patient that could have been avoided.
Fixing a Broken System
The recent book “American Sickness” by Dr Elisabeth Rosenthal “An American Sickness” takes on the existing system and is filled with strategies for patients faced with mounting medical bills, an intractable and aggressive healthcare system that is unflinching in seeking payment and by many estimates the leading cause of personal financial crisis and insolvency. While the figures remain under debate my own personal reality living with a High Deductible Plan that has found me
- Self-treating Fractures
- Becoming my own compounding pharmacy and
- Spending months and many hours fighting multiple bills
In the case of one screening procedure, that under the current regulations are fully covered but thanks to either mistaken coding or perhaps even deliberate coding, remains outstanding and in two of the three cases, the billing organizations despite my attempts at regular communications, response and protests were handed over to debt collection agencies.
So I am with Dr. Rosenthal and “breaking down the monolithic business”.
The situation is far worse than we think, and it has become like that much more recently than we realize. Hospitals, which are managed by business executives, behave like predatory lenders, hounding patients and seizing their homes. Research charities are in bed with big pharmaceutical companies, which surreptitiously profit from the donations made by working people. Americans are dying from routine medical conditions when affordable and straightforward solutions exist.
Employer Sponsored Insurance
Central to the challenges is the arcane concept that you access to healthcare and health insurance should be linked to your employment. As one friend of mine commented, “There are some who believe this is a deliberate policy on the part of employers to lock in employees to jobs they may not want but have to take because they need the health insurance and can’t afford the challenge or cost of changing (health insurance”. I don’t quite go down that rabbit hole and think Dan Munro’s explanation in his great book “Casino Healthcare”
that detailed the history linked to the war effort and the need to find other incentives after they introduced: “An Act to further the national defense and security by checking speculative and excessive price rises, price dislocations, and inflationary tendencies, and for other purposes.” (EPCA) in 1942 – wages were frozen to stop inflation but as is so often the case left the door open for unintended consequences that found employers looking for ways to compete for a shortage of labor. And as they say what follows is history – Employer Sponsored Insurance (ESI) was born.
History of the NHS
It is interesting to note that the NHS model was also a product of the war that found the wounded servicemen and women in need of healthcare. A need that was serviced by the “Emergency Hospital Service” (aka Emergency Medical Service) that provided a model and experience to the country that became the model for what is now the NHS established in 1946.
But whatever the history, reasons, and background – this remains a millstone around American’s. It can add to job reductions and General Motors have stated that their employee healthcare costs add $1,500 – 2,000 to the price of every car they produce. It makes us less competitive internationally and crippling many with overheads that add to the cost of goods sold. It also puts employers at the table on healthcare decision making for their employers that present potential conflicts of interest given their need to service their share holders and remain profitable.
Finding a pathway to resolving this big intractable healthcare mess is going to take some major re-thinking and compromise on all sides. In the meantime, I suggest focusing on individual incremental approaches locally.
Incremental Steps to Coping With Healthcare
The list of 6 Questions to ask your doctor before your appointment and 5 questions to ask before you stay in a hospital are excellent resources from Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, that are featured in the book and on the website. So in the spirit of the incremental approach, I offer up two credit card size templates containing the
- 5 Questions to Ask During Your Hospital Stay
- 6 Questions to Ask Before Every Doctor’s Appointment
Formatted in a handy Avery 5371 White Business Card Template that can be printed – double sided and put in your wallet: Questions When Using Healthcare Avery Template 5371
Do you have any tips or suggestions in dealing with the healthcare system? Disagree with any of this – feel free to leave your comments or reach out.
You can also follow me here on medium, on twitter, or on facebook or Sign up to receive my posts each week