Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Hidden Costs Of Our Current Health Care

For the woman in the following story, wearing her wedding ring is a potential financial disaster.

The health care debate is driving me nuts. I suspect a lot of the national angst has as much to do with the bank bailout as it does 'death panels' and other right wing fear mongering.

Latest statistics show our four biggest banks are now bigger than they were before the bailout and enjoy a very unfair competitive advantage. This is because their creditors are aware of the fact that the government will bail them out again, should they once again over extend themselves. The smaller banks enjoy no such government guarantees. More than thirty smaller banks have gone under in the last four months. So much for reform on Wall Street. TARP has only made the original problem worse and consolidated even more power in the hands of fewer banks. Great. People have a legitimate right to wonder how badly the government can screw up health care.

Health care though is different. I don't have to put my money in any given bank, or any bank at all for that matter. I don't have the same kind of freedom with my health. The current system, which more and more people are being terrified into supporting, is already doing everything the fear mongers would have us believe the govenment will do under ObamaCare. The following is an Op Ed piece from the NY Times and clearly illustrates the level of real social problems in our existing health care.

Till Medical Bills Do Us Part Nicholas Kristoff, NY Times 8/29/09

My friend M. — you’ll understand in a moment why she’s terrified of my using her name — had to make a searing decision a year ago. She was married to a sweet, gentle man whom she loved, but who had become increasingly absent-minded. Finally, he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

The disease is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalized.

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

“I was blown away,” M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.

Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.

A complicating factor was that this was a second marriage. M.’s first husband had died, leaving an inheritance that he had intended for their children. She and her second husband had a prenuptial agreement, but that would not protect her assets from his medical expenses. (I don't think most Americans are aware of the power medical providers have to go after their assets. There are very few ways to protect assets. prenuptials are a classic case which work in some areas, but not medical debt collection.)

The hospital told M. not to waste time in dissolving the marriage. For five years after any divorce, her assets could be seized — precisely because the government knows that people sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.

“How could I divorce him? I loved him,” she told me.

“I explored a lot of options with an attorney here in town,” she added. “The attorney said, ‘I don’t see any other options for you.’ It took about a year for me to do the divorce, it was so hard.”

So M. divorced the man she loves. I asked him what he thought of this. He can still speak, albeit not always coherently, and he paused a long, long time. All he could manage was: “It’s hard to say.”

Long-term care constitutes a difficult and expensive challenge in any health system. But the American patchwork, full of cracks through which people fall, has a special problem with medical expenses of all kinds bankrupting couples.

A study reported in The American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 percent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 percent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills.

M. still helps her husband and, quietly, continues to live with him and care for him. But she worries that the authorities will come after her if they realize that they divorced not because of irreconcilable differences but because of irreconcilable medical bills. There were awkward questions from friends who saw the divorce announcement in the newspaper.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “It twists people like pretzels.”

The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.

In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.

So, for those of you inclined to believe the worst about President Obama, think it through. Suppose he is indeed a secret, foreign-born Muslim agent who is scheming to undermine American family values while killing off as many grandmothers as possible.

If all that were true, why on earth would he be trying so hard to reform our health care system? We already know how to prod families into divorce and take a life unnecessarily every 30 minutes — all we need to do is reject reform and stick with exactly what we have.


When we talk about fear, the anonymous M in this article, lives with it daily. Her story underscores the reality that our current health care system holds us hostage to the profit driven health industry, and very much backs this up with the laws (guns) of the government.

This story is full of people violating their hearts and consciences. First you have members of the medical community telling M that the only way she can avoid being bankrupted by their medical community is to more or less fraudulently divorce her sick and confused husband. This is followed by her attorney, who is sworn to uphold the laws of the country, advising her to take the very same fraudulent step. Now that she's taken it, she's terrified she'll be caught before the five years expires and lives her marriage as some sort of covert sneaky thing. And we dare call this health care?

This is not health care, this is tyranny by profit driven capitalism supported by government law which enshrines the rights of the corporation over the individual. Why isn't this seen as government backed corporate fascism?

President Obama does not have a sterling record when it comes to cleaning up Wall Street. That record is undermining his ability to reform health care. He needs to face this fact and dump this whole notion of bipartisan agreement. TARP has clearly shown how effective bipartisan agreements are when it comes to actually reforming a major part of our financial system. It made things even worse. He can't let this happen with health care reform. If he does, his term in office will not exceed four years, and maybe it shouldn't.


  1. How sad that people have to get divorced or they'll lose everything, including the shirt off their back, and in order to not live in the streets or in a tent city in their golden years. Very sad. Who in their right mind and with the spirit of Christ could support such a system that bleeds people financially and emotionally.

    Sickening situation for healthcare in the USA!

  2. great article. . .truly our healthcare system is sick and getting sicker. .

  3. This is not new....when I was a kid in the fifties, I had an aunt that was widowed with 2 children. She had a 'live in' boyfriend, which was a scandal to the family; but if she had married him she would have lost social security benefits and her health insurance coverage. I think it is still the same for many many people.

  4. Yes this has been going on for a long long time. I get a kick out of conservatives who think a public health care system will encourage people to be irresonsible and dependent on the 'dole'.

    The fact is I've had way too many clients who couldn't afford to take a full time job because they would lose medicaid--and their essential prescriptions- and would never qualify for employer insurance because they had a pre existing and pharmaceutically expensive condition. So they volunteered their time all over the place in all kinds of projects, and in the process became indespensible.

    And yet bishops like Finn and Naumann would call these people irresponsible and willfully dependent on others for their health care. Give me a break.