Politicians disconnect from good sense, even as U.S. health care worries soar

donquixote-300x259When it comes to something as crucial as health care, let’s keep it simple: Americans deserve better than this …

  • Can President Trump keep up his barrage of counter-factual assertions and political reverses on federal help for those needing health insurance, a key part of the Affordable Care Act? After resurrecting in federal courts the decade-long debacle of Republican efforts to kill Obamacare—including its protections for preexisting conditions—Trump flipped yet again. He heard an earful from party leaders that they have no way to cover tens of millions who would lose their health insurance if the ACA gets tossed out by courts, and he apparently awoke to the reality that the GOP can’t eliminate the law when Democrats control the House. So, the president then insisted that the GOP, after failing to do so for years, would present a better alternative and enact it, repealing Obamacare, too—at some time after the 2020 elections. If Republicans win back the House, keep control of the Senate, and he is reelected.
  • Even as the president asserted the GOP’s superiority in health care policy, the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquire reported that a key element of Trumpcare is bringing back consumer nightmares. Patients initially might like the short-term health insurance plans the administration has pushed as an ACA alternative. Officials have relaxed rules on them so they can last longer than the few months permitted under Obamacare. The plans may carry lower monthly premiums. But they come with skimpy benefits. Which consumers are rediscovering. They’re getting sick and hoping to rely on short-term policies, only to find they owe doctors and hospitals thousands of dollars—but their insurance won’t help them with a penny.
  • For millions of Americans who go sleepless while dealing with the many devastations of cancer, the  No. 2 cause of death in the nation, Trump has pulled out of thin air a notion with zero basis in fact: He claims that wind turbines cause cancer, saying. “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one, okay?” The devices are central to the generation of 8% of the operating electric generating capacity in the United States in 2016, more than any other renewable technology, including hydroelectricity. The president has made clear he prefers coal and gas over lower polluting, renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Medical experts and even fellow politicians said Trump’s cancer claims were unfounded, with an Iowa Republican senator calling the statement “idiotic.”
  • Catherine Pugh, the Democratic mayor of Baltimore, suddenly took so ill that she decided she needed an indefinite leave of absence. She’s exiting her office as reports pile up daily about sickening insider deals she was involved in, calls for her resignation grow, and investigations of her conduct mount. She sat on the volunteer University of Maryland Medical Center board, helping to oversee a giant health system that also bought $500,000 worth of her self-published, 20-page “Healthy Holly” kids’ books. Kaiser Permanente has acknowledged it paid her $100,000 for her books as the mayor sat on a city board that awarded the company a $48-million contract for health insurance for city employees. Associated Black Charities has said it paid more than $80,000 to the mayor for the kid books, with much of the money to cover that cost coming from donors to the charitable group, including CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. J.P. Grant, who runs Grant Capital Management, a finance firm that does business with the city, also has said he paid Pugh $100,000 for the books. The tomes, by the way, are awful, a book critic opines.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent medical care. This has become a bigger challenge with the growing complexity, cost, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which prove to be dangerous drugs. Adding to patients’ daunting situations, can the disconnect on health care be any greater between ordinary Americans and too many politicians with power these days?

While political partisans pursue multiple ways to strip patients and their families of federal or collective help if they are staggered by the illness or injury that might befall at any time, more than half of Americans see high health care costs as a serious problem. We blame Big Pharma, insurers, and hospitals for soaring costs. And too many of us see how finances drained by them, as the New York Times reported, noting:

Americans borrowed an estimated $88 billion over the last year to pay for health care, according to a survey … by Gallup and the nonprofit West Health. The survey also found that one in four Americans have skipped treatment because of the cost, and that nearly half fear bankruptcy in the event of a health emergency.

Medical costs loom so large that doctors and hospitals are trying to develop billing codes, so they can document in medical records’ the social factors that crush patients finances and hinder their ability to pay. As Politico, the online politics website, described the nation’s seemingly insoluble health care problems:

The Obamacare wars have ignored what really drives American anxiety about health care: Medical costs are decimating family budgets and turning the U.S. health system into a runaway $3.7 trillion behemoth. Poll after poll shows that cost is the number one issue in health care for American voters, but to a large extent, both parties are still mired in partisan battles over other aspects of Obamacare – most notably how to protect people with pre-existing conditions and how to make insurance more affordable, particularly for people who buy coverage on their own. That leaves American health care consumers with high premiums, big deductibles and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for drugs and other services. Neither party has a long-term solution — and the renewed fight over Obamacare that burst out over the past 10 days has made compromise even more elusive.

Big Pharma’s corrosive conduct contributes, too. How much trust can patients put in medical care when, for example, they discover that psychiatric drugs, with their much-promoted relief for crushing problems like depression, can become a giant burden themselves, notably if users want to unhook from them? How can patients give credibility to makers’ (counter factual) claims that their drugs’ nose-bleed prices reflect the steep cost of factors like research and development, when an old drug like insulin carries a price tag that changes more often and easily than most of us shed socks? A major insurer may tout a complex plan to cap at $25 the 30-day costs of a medication needed by tens of millions of diabetic Americans. But that still doesn’t explain nor justify how the drug’s per unit cost tripled since the 1990s when it was as low as $2 and change. It’s also worth noting that diabetics aren’t alone in getting shafted on drug prices—because so many seniors need insulin, taxpayers are getting hit with those spikes in costs via Medicare Part D.

We need policy-makers and politicians to stop talking nonsense and engaging in unacceptable practices because our health care problems aren’t going away and they’re worsening for too many. We can’t give up, we can’t become nihilistic, and we need to look hard at our choices, especially in the onrushing 2020 elections.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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