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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Cost of Healthcare

Every time you look or listen these days, the headline news abounds about the "Healthcare Crisis". Headlines on the Internet, newspapers, TV and cable news are punctuate with words like "crisis", "urgent" and "doom". It's enough to make you sick!

But are we really experiencing a crisis? Or is it more of a "nagging problem", an "issue" or a "concern"?

From my own vantage point, I am fortunate that my husband has benefits including health insurance from his employer. We pay a premium that increases annually, and with that amount of money it could pay our hefty monthly electric bill and water bill. But as a family of five, we have never wavered from having health insurance because you never know when you're going to need emergency care.

Last summer, as a matter of fact, both my husband and youngest daughter experienced illnesses that required immediate attention. In my daughter's case, our family was camping when she complained about having a tummy ache. She did not have a fever, wasn't doubled over in pain, and wasn't throwing up. She even went on a hike. So we did not react immediately to her symptoms. But on the third day of complaining she developed a sudden fever - her pain became more acute and localized so we rushed her to the hospital emergency room.

Turned out she had a ruptured appendix. We experienced emergency care where she was diagnosed, then we experienced full in-patient care where she was operated on and recuperated for three days at the hospital in a private room. We had an incredible medical team who we placed our complete trust in. $3000 worth as a matter of fact as that was our out-of-pocket expense. Her total bill? $47K. If we did not have medical insurance, we would have had to pay that amount ourselves.

While my husband and I were in the waiting room, it was a critical moment. But were we experiencing a healthcare crisis? If we did not have insurance, what would we have done? More importantly, where would we have received proper medical attention?

Yesterday I took my 17-year old daughter to a volunteer meeting at the Ronald McDonald House. This is an amazing place, funded by philanthropic dollars from McDonald's (aka the Golden Arches) as well as private and corporate donations and endowments. Here, critically to terminally ill children receive outpatient care while awaiting further in-patient treatment. They are often far from home and by staying in such a facility for only $10 a night, they have some financial relief from their other healthcare bills.

Families or individuals who have a major illness and who have reasonable healthcare insurance are burdened by co-payments and expenses which their insurance does not cover. Overtime, they also become a burden on the insurance company who re-classifies their status and often make it more difficult to get coverage should they change carriers. That's known as a pre-exisiting condition in the insurance world, and they often decline covering someone with a background of health-related problems because they can become a burden on their profit-oriented business model.

Remember, insurance companies are in this to make money.

So a question at hand is whether those who are self-employed, who make low wages or who opt out of purchasing insurance able to afford quality care where it won't break the bank? Is it necessary for the government (big daddy) to interfere or intervene?

What other solutions are there? And how did we get to this "crisis" to begin with? I think there are more questions than answers, but to get to the right solution we have to ask all the questions we can. We also have to curb our law-suit-happy population who have forced the healthcare industry to be overly cautious and costly.

In my opinion, the less government involvement the better. Consider the Social Security System, Medicare and Public Education. Each of those if privatized would stand a chance of being more successful because they would have merit and profit based systems. In countries where schooling is privatized such as Belgium,they are more successful because the teachers are rewarded for success in their pay and the schools have to show a profit. Their scores reflect this. A great video to watch is "Stupid in America" reported by John Stossel on 20/20 (go to youtube and search on "Stupid in America".)

Belgium has developed a very innovative government-lead solution. There the money to educate a child is provided by the governement using a voucher system, where the funds are attached to the kid, and the kid is not bound as they are in America by school districts. Families can "shop around" for the best school that suits their child. The schools are profit based and overtime develop a reputation. As reflected by test scores, American schools don't educate as well as schools in other countries because they are, in effect, government monopolies, and monopolies don't have much incentive to compete. In Europe, if a school can't attract a student, it goes out of business. Belgium has some of the highest scoring students in the world, by the way.

Jack Welch, the distinguished former CEO of GE, is featured in the Stossel report and has written about stories of the success he brought to GE. Because of his meritocracy-based system he was able to achieve incredible success. When you have the power to reward excellence, you increase excellence. When you have government run agencies, unions, and "big brother" breathing down, you nearly always breed complacency and excellence is hampered because it not rewarded properly.

That is what I fear the most in a government run healthcare system. Remember the last time you stood in line at the DVM? Government run. How about getting a passport? How long did that take? Government-run. So how could a government run healthcare system be any better than other government run systems in America?

I don't claim to have answers but in run-of-the-mill experience that a typical American has such as going to the DMV to get a license renewed, medicare fraud, lacking public education systems, its hard to have assurance that the government will do a better job in healthcare. For sure we have issues with the rising cost, but what other creative ways can this be addressed? It's like crying for mommy or daddy when you can't find the immediate solution. But let's be grown up about this and figure out a creative solution before running to the government to take care of everything.

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