Health Care System Draining U.S. Finances
"Let's take a look at the health care news that's transpired" in the past four weeks, Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a staff writer at the New Yorker, writes in a New York Times opinion piece.
He cites the recent news that DaimlerChrysler sold off its Chrysler division to Cerberus Capital Management in order to escape the company's health and pension liability costs. "The deal meant that the costs of our job-based health insurance system ... have so broken the automaker's ability to compete that giving it away became the smartest thing Daimler could do," Gawande says.
Also this month, officials at West Jefferson Medical Center near New Orleans "reported that the number of indigent patients admitted there has tripled since Hurricane Katrina," Gawande says, adding that caring for the influx of uninsured patients has put regional hospitals "in financial crisis," leading area health care providers to sue Louisiana for reimbursements.
Meanwhile, a press conference held this month by the American College of Emergency Physicians highlighted the fact that "emergency rooms everywhere are drowning in patients," according to Gawande. He also notes a recent Commonwealth Fund study comparing health care in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Britain showing, among other things, that half of U.S. residents said they chose to forgo medical care in the past two years because of cost, twice the proportion in the other countries.
Gawande writes, "None of this news, however, did more than lift a few eyebrows. So this is the picture of American health care you get after watching for a few weeks: it's full of holes, it's slowly bankrupting us and we're kind of used to it." He concludes, "That leaves two possibilities: (1) We've given up on the country; or (2) we're just waiting for someone else to be in charge. I'm pulling for No. 2 (Gawande, New York Times, 5/26).