The high cost of being sick

The high cost of being sick

Health care costs have been on the rise for decades, and even for those with health insurance, rising deductibles and surprise medical bills are becoming increasingly problematic.

Number of the Day

60,000  - Number of Louisianans currently enrolled in a two-year program at one of Louisiana’s Community & Technical College system schools, compared to just 27,000 enrolled in 1998.  (Source: Council for a Better Louisiana).

Health care costs have been on the rise for decades, and even for those with health insurance, rising deductibles and surprise medical bills are becoming increasingly problematic. For people who are seriously ill and require significant medical care, it’s common for health care costs not covered by insurance to lead to financial ruin, according to a new survey by The New York Times, the Commonwealth Fund and the Harvard  T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Margot Sanger-Katz with The Upshot blog reports:

Thirty-one percent of people in the survey said they were unsure what their health insurance would pay for. Forty-two percent said they’d received a hospital bill that their insurance had not fully covered. Twenty-six percent said a treatment their doctor recommended was denied by their insurance. “What’s staggering here is there’s no way people could know what they would be in for,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at Harvard who helped devise the survey. “They don’t know what their insurance covers. The consequences for people are quite extraordinary.”

The individual stories collected by the survey give a glimpse into the financial struggle that many sick Americans are dealing with:

[Tristan] Berger, who lives in Tucson, said he spent $12,000 last year on care not covered by his health insurance. When we spoke recently, he had already spent a similar amount this year, after his latest orthopedic operation. “You sit there every month trying to figure out what bill to pay: Do you pay the hospital bill or do you pay the utility bill?” he said. “There’s no savings. We’re part of that percentage of America that are one paycheck from being destitute.”

The current health care system in the United States is increasingly unworkable, so maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of considering a new model for health care, says Dr. Elmore Rigamer in a letter to the editor in Nola.com/The Times Picayune:

So, don’t believe the Medicare-for-all fear mongering. The real boogeymen are the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, who have the most to lose if their profits are redirected to direct patient care. It’s no wonder so many members of Congress want to protect the interest of insurance and pharma — these two industries spent $371 million in on lobbying in 2017 alone! Now that’s a scary fact.

 

Safety net threatened despite record of success
The U.S. Census data released last month revealed how many millions of Americans are being lifted above the poverty line by federal safety net programs. Social Security, food stamps (SNAP) and housing subsidies all provided a lifeline to struggling households, more so in 2017 than in years past, thanks to stagnant wages for the working class. That hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump and House Republicans from putting forth proposals that would slash the programs. Alexia Fernadez Campbell writes for Vox:

It’s no secret that Trump and Republican leaders in Congress want to gut the government’s anti-poverty programs. The president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance over the next 10 years. It includes a 7.1 percent cut to Medicare, a 22.5 percent cut to Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies, a 27.4 percent cut to SNAP, and a 20.1 percent cut to Section 8 housing aid. Trump can’t cut all this from the budget without Congress, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill would love to do so. The president’s proposal mirrors budget plans House Speaker Paul Ryan proposed when he was the House Budget Committee chair.

Many of the proposed cuts safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP are disguised as “work requirement” proposals. But research shows that punitive work requirements don’t do much but push families deeper into poverty:

Vox’s Alvin Chang and Tara Golshan reviewed the research on the impact of forcing welfare recipients to work in exchange for benefits, which is something several states have tried. They say the rules did increase employment among participants, but only by very little, because most beneficiaries were already working. And they note that the requirements didn’t do much to lift people from poverty: Work requirements barely caused poverty rates to budge, partially because even people who found work weren’t earning enough to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition, at half the experiment sites, work requirements caused more people to be in deep poverty

 

The promise of homeownership?
Homeownership is viewed as one of the surest ways to build wealth in the United States, but the benefits of owning a home aren’t distributed evenly across neighborhoods and demographics. Researchers at The Pew Trusts reviewed housing prices across neighborhoods and by race of the homeowner and found that the legacy of redlining and discriminatory lending practices continue to disadvantaged black homeowners. Pew’s Tim Henderson writes:

One reason for the disparity is that many black homeowners lost out on the housing boom of the mid-2000s. Between 2005 and 2007, as skyrocketing home values pumped up the wealth of many white homeowners, many black homeowners lost ground, according to the Johns Hopkins study. On average, first-time homebuyers with low to moderate incomes gained 50 percent in net worth between 2005 and 2007 if they were white, but lost almost 50 percent if they were black. And when the housing bubble burst and the Great Recession began, black homeowners were hit harder than whites, in large part because predatory lenders had steered many of them into sub-prime mortgages.

 

Fresh food options for north Baton Rouge
North Baton Rouge is a food desert – an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. It’s an issue city leaders have been trying to tackle for several years without marked success. But that could soon change, with the announcement of $2 million in grant funding dedicated to bringing healthy food options to underserved zip codes in the city.  The Advocate’s Terry L. Jones has more:

We know that food deserts are indeed a reality in our community so we want to address the challenges on all levels,” [Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston] Broome said at a press conference Thursday morning. “As a result of these programs, we predict, by the end of this year, every person living in 70805 will be able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables within one mile of their home.” Addressing the food desert — areas where residents have limited access to a variety of affordable, healthy foods — in north Baton Rouge has been an ongoing effort since former mayor-president Kip Holden in 2013 created a Food Access Commission, which included representatives from faith-based activist group Together Baton Rouge.

 

Number of the day
60,000  – Number of Louisianans currently enrolled in a two-year program at one of Louisiana’s Community & Technical College system schools, compared to just 27,000 enrolled in 1998.  (Source: Council for a Better Louisiana).