As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) takes heat from all sides while trying to figure out how to get votes to pass a Republican health care reform bill, I offer a suggestion: Go home for the summer. Let Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) continue to recover from his surgery, and use it as a time to spend time with your family and your constituents. Come back later and try again.
The bill doesn’t have the support and isn’t going to resolve the problem our country is facing in attempting to finance health care, just as the Affordable Care Act before it failed. Why fight so hard just to prove you can force legislation on your country?
Instead, our senators should spend some time volunteering at a hospital in their state this summer. Get face-to-face with your constituents and listen to their stories.
Listen to how a family with a $12,000 deductible has to find a way to pay for a family member’s care without losing everything. In fact, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported that among the insured with medical bill problems, 63 percent report using up most or all of their savings, while 42 percent took an extra job or worked more hours. For families with high-deductible plans, I guess, a small silver lining is that they actually have insurance and at least receive a discount in the cost of care from their insurance carrier.
Listen to how another patient is one of the 28 million currently without any insurance at all. Perhaps, he’s been dealt a family history of colon cancer, like my family and so many American families. Why should he forgo a diagnostic study simply because he doesn’t have insurance? Likely he’s not skipping the exam because he’s not aware of the risk. It’s, sadly, a financial decision. Without insurance, the hospital bill for this procedure could be as much as $10,000, of which Medicare pays only $1,600. Sure, maybe he’ll get a hardship discount from the hospital or maybe not. It’s not a guarantee. Or let’s say he gets a 45 percent discount. That’s still $2,900 more than the Medicare allowable. So how does he pay for this potentially life-saving procedure? He could charge it to a credit card with 18 percent interest. He could borrow from family or friends, or set up a payment plan with the hospital for the next ten years. None of those options are ideal or even feasible in many cases.
There are many stories of patients in every corner of our country dealing with financial struggles related to their care. McConnell and his colleagues would do well to listen to them all. Listening is a powerful tool. It makes us stop, regroup and decide if we are moving in the right direction or if we’re continuing to press forward in a bubble without really understanding how our decisions affect others.
We have a problem that is much larger than the coverage of pre-existing conditions or a $45 billion spend on opioid addiction treatment. Instead, we have a health care system that has lost all ability to pay for itself. Daily, we are destroying thousands of Americans’ financial security while Congress wastes time arguing whether to include taxes on investment income.
After a few weeks of listening, maybe our senator friends — and even our representatives in the House — could go back to Washington and finally, once and for all make a difference and fix the cost of care issue, which is really about affordability.
Douglas K. Tardio is a founding partner of HealthCost.com and a 25-year veteran of the health care industry.
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