The Iowa Caucuses were last week, and the New Hampshire caucuses are this Tuesday, kicking off the race for the White House. Are you paying attention?
If not, you should. Many experts believe that the stars are finally aligned for significant changes in our health care system. This year's elections seem to be bringing the focus on health care more than any election since 1992.
In poll after poll, Americans list health care as a top domestic issue for this next President. And the candidates are listening. From universal health care to an overhaul of Medicare to stem cells and other technologies, the 2008 presidential candidates are taking a stand - have you?
If you are uninsured or underinsured you need to listen. If you have been stunned by the out of pocket costs for prescription drugs, you need to listen. If you are of Medicare age or nearing Medicare age, you need to listen.
I think it will take years, even decades to overhaul our aging health care system, but the next president does seem poised to introduce some significant changes, and, depending on the support of Congress and the health and business communities, you could see some important changes in how aspects of health care are delivered in this country.
One issue garnering a lot of interest is what to do about the 47 million Americans who are uninsured. A decade ago, many experts questioned whether the large numbers of uninsured Americans truly represented a problem. Now we know it is. And the reason is simple: cost.
Over the past decade, the cost of prescription drugs has increased at DOUBLE the rate of inflation. That has fueled a sharp rise in the numbers of Americans who are uninsured or underinsured. Employers often can't afford health insurance for their employees and those who are insuring their employees are providing less coverage. Even Medicare patients have seen a doubling of their premiums over the past decade.
In my practice, I've seen patients with insurance who are paying $600 or $700 dollars a month out of pocket for their medications. Many of the best drugs for patients are unfortunately the most expensive. I've even had patients tell me they held off on buying prescriptions so they could get groceries or pay the rent. And this in the richest nation in the world?!
Without good insurance, a single major illness could bankrupt a person.
Some candidates offer universal health care as a possible solution for this problem. Simply put, these are health care plans that will be available for all Americans. Two states, Massachusetts and Vermont, already have laws that lean towards universal coverage of all their residents. Most of the universal health care proposals put forth by the presidential candidates want to use a mixture of private insurance and government programs to offer health care to all citizens. A few candidates favor a single- payer program whereby the government functions as the insurer to all.
Most conservative candidates favor free market solutions for the health insurance crisis. Some favor tax credits to those employers offering insurance.
And the candidates have also proffered a variety of solutions for the high cost of prescription drugs. This is a problem that threatens the solvency of Medicare, not to mention the wallets of millions of Americans who need expensive life saving medications.
The candidates have offered a variety of creative approaches to this massive problem - from allowing the importation of drugs from Canada and overseas, to allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical companies.
However, I think it's important that we take a hard look at how to prevent the very medical problems that require expensive medical care. How many of us exercise every day? How many of us watch our diet, get the recommended screening tests and immunizations?
In 2000, nearly half of all deaths were caused by bad habits such as tobacco abuse, lack of physical exercise and obesity.
I hope that as part of any overhaul of the American healthcare system, that prevention will be an important focus. Healthy lifestyle habits save lives ... and dollars.
Published On: January 06, 2008