The healthcare system is killing us

ilanakohn_sketchForbes, 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 illustration is a sketch by Ilana Kohn from

6 thoughts on “The healthcare system is killing us

  1. Meg Gerrish

    As if I wasn’t already steroid-induced crazy owing to current and ongoing health problems…but I have learned one thing that could be helpful to others. Might not work in every case, but it Lays The Groundwork:

    When you’re filling in those admission forms for out- or in-patient treatments, anywhere that it’s possible put these words:

    “If you’re not in my insurance network, you’re not getting paid. So good luck with that.”

    As you might imagine, those radiologists, laboratories and other ancillary services pay attention to the idea that they might not get paid. And in the soup full of providers, there are ancillary services available that DO take your insurance and will pick up the project.

  2. Neal Boortz

    Don’t you LIBERALS realize what this COMMIE is talking about is SOCIALISM?!?!?!

    You cannot have a free market system unless rich corporations control health insurance with interests directly opposed to consumers! Everybody knows that! It’s the American Way to take peoples’ health and livelihoods and make them publicly-traded financial instruments!! In other countries, like the evil Canada and the evil Great Britain, many people die of easily curable and preventable diseases because of BUREAUCRACY!! oh wait… but nobody even gets rich off of it!!!!

    Seriously though, great article.

  3. Mike Pattillo

    The healthcare system is killing me. And nobody cares! My bluecross went up to $1050.00 Per month. I really have no life threatning issues and I work everyday. I called John Oxendines (The Ga Insurance commissioners office) to complain. I was promptly told it was no use to complain to them as mr Oxendine is married to Ivey Dunn -- A blue cross exectuive. The attorney generals office is not interedted. Even CBS 46 news was not interested. We have become a society where most think everything is perfect and no one does their job!! I think individuals should pay the same amount for healthcare insurance as companies pay for thier employees. Individuals and small businesses are totally screwed.

  4. Mike Pattillo

    Ohhh -- Neal Boortz would be more effective if he woukl just shut up and listen. By the way Neal -- where are the 3 ships traveling the sea’s with the WMD from Iraq?

  5. Lee Leslie Post author

    I gotta give Oxendine credit. Most regulators just sleep with the companies they regulate, at least he finally married her. Strange kind of ethics, but one that makes him ideal to lead the Republicans in the governor’s race.

  6. Lindy Lou

    I once lived under the “socialized” system of healthcare in England called National Health, and while far from perfect, it worked incrediby well and far, far better than the insanity here. Once we signed up in our village, our family could call and see a doctor within a day. Friends of mine who had babies received excellent care at the hospital, followed by a nurse who made house calls for a week to train the new mother on best practices and assure that all was well. When in the UK, my husband had to travel to Kosova and received a battery of preventative shots, at no charge, at our village clinic. When we returned to the states and embarked on a trip to Africa, those same shots cost each of us $600 in Atlanta.
    As Scott Fitzgerald said, “the rich are different than you and me,” and can always make things better for themselves wherever they live. In England, if you choose, you can bypass the public health system and go straight to a private provider. I recently tried to get in to see a ear/nose/throat specialist in the good old USA and with every call I made, there was a three month wait. I’m sure Ted Turner doesn’t have the same problem. People who fear national health are concerned that we will receive substandard care and lack choice. Most of us (the Warren Buffets and Ted Turners of the world excepted) are already controlled with a lack of choice. We are controlled by Aetna, Blue Cross, etc, al. And, as the author pointed out, many of us pay obscene rates for this privilege ( if we can afford to and are not ruled out of coverage because of pre-existing conditions). The “working poor” suffer the most—-and our emergency rooms are clogged because these people cannot afford to take their kids to a doctor for life’s minor emergencies.
    Wake up America and join the rest of the world. In this country, we have something called public school. It is not perfect but provides a guarantee that every child has an educational opportunity. How can we not provide every child free healthcare? It won’t be perfect either, but the alternatives we have insisted on for so many years are indeed killing us!!!


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