Forbes, yes, Forbes, reports today on a new study finding that “medical problems and expenses contributed to nearly two-thirds of all bankruptcies in the United States.”
In fairness, the American Journal of Medicine, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University study used data from 2007 and, according to the researchers, was “collected prior to the current economic downturn. It’s likely that the current rate of medical-related bankruptcies is even higher.”
Those of you who haven’t experienced how this can happen to “solidly middle class” people with jobs, insurance and college degrees, get ready. You will.
Generally, what happens first, is that you go to a doctor. Your financial advisor and the health insurance industry strongly discourages this step. After co-pays, deductibles, tests, more co-pays, referrals, uncovered expenses, out-of-network anonymous radiologists and labs, and more co-pays, you find out that you are sick and need treatment for something. Researchers estimate that the likelihood you will at some time see a doctor and find you are sick is 99.95%.
After a generation or so of cruelly strategic lobbying by the extremely profitable health insurance industry, your health care system is set up as a war of attrition. By severely limiting physician reimbursements for a patient visit, you are lucky to see a doctor for more than a few minutes. You are, however, likely to wait a month or more for the appointment and an hour or more in various waiting rooms.
With expenses for the office, practice insurance, professional staff and paperwork specialists, your doctor simply cannot afford to see you, test you and treat you in a single visit for $53.50. Your insurance company prefers a system requiring the scheduling expensive tests for diagnosis and subsequent treatment appointments on the theory that you will either get better on your own, run out of money for the deductibles, co-pays and non-covered expenses, or just die.
The only exception to the rule, is gun shot wounds. Our system works really well if you are bleeding in the waiting room.
Once you get in the system, it can easily take years to find out what is wrong and treat you. During that time, you’ll miss a lot of work. Even while at work, you’ll feel like miserable, your mind will be elsewhere and you will wish you were. Eventually, your employer will announce a “strategic restructuring” and you will be out of job. You will be able to keep that lousy great insurance at a much higher cost for a few months before you lose it. Then you’ll have a preexisting condition. Just try and find another job while you are sick and have a public record of a pre-existing condition – no company will ever hire you with benefits again. Next, your credit goes to hell. The credit card companies raise your rates to 30% or so, plus whatever fees they wish especially if they have been spying on your purchases and notice you no longer buy luxury, only meds. Your spouse will lose work time taking care of you and will risk your fate. You will lose your home and declare bankruptcy. This is what happens in America.
“Our findings are frightening. Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy,” lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a news release from the Physicians for a National Health Program.
“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when a prolonged illness causes job loss — precisely when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain,” Himmelstein said.
When your Congressperson speaks on CNN or Fox about your right to choose private health insurance coverage, keep in mind that what they are really saying is: Keep those campaign contributions coming and I’ll sell the chumps I represent on the idea that they already have truly great coverage as long as they are healthy. Who cares what happens went they eventually get sick? They’ll be broke, powerless and dead soon enough.
- The American Journal of Medicine study
- “Health Insurance Costs” from the National Coalition of Health Care
- “Health Insurance Profits Soar as Industry Mergers Create Near-Monopoly” by Mike Hall, May 27, 2009
- “Pharma Plan To Block McCain Bill Emailed To McCain’s Office” from the WSJ, June 5, 2009
- “Medical Bills Cause Most Bankruptcies” from the NYT, June 4, 2009
- “Obama Open to a Mandate on Health Insurance” from the NYT, June 3, 2009
- Consumer Credit Counseling Service
The illustration is a sketch by Ilana Kohn from IlanaKohn.blogspot.com