29 April 2005

Florence Nightingale has morphed into Vampira

The state of the American health care system.
Healthcare costs are sucking the blood out of the economy, for one thing. Consider poor General Motors, once the nation's flagship corporation and now sinking under the weight of its employee health benefits which account for $1,500 of the sticker price of each new vehicle. As GM contemplates bankruptcy, other companies thrash around frantically trying to shed their insurance-needy American employees. They downsize and outsource anything to escape the burden of health costs. The result? Our "jobless recovery": Companies don't want to assume responsibility for their workers' medical bills and this being the global temple of free enterprise neither does the government.

Then there are the U.S. health system's toxic effects on individuals, and I'm not referring to Vioxx or the approximately 200,000 people who die each year as a result of "medical mistakes," but to its financial effects. Harvard's Elizabeth Warren recently co-wrote a study showing that more than half of all personal bankruptcies are triggered by medical costs, and it's easy enough to see how. If you lose your job through, say, downsizing or outsourcing you lose your health insurance, and the uninsured are routinely charged up to three times more than those who have an insurance company to negotiate their hospital bills. As for emergency rooms, which the hardhearted or incurious imagine absorbing all the poor and uninsured well, the average visit to an ER now costs a little over $1,000, which is a high price to pay for an asthma attack or an infant's fever.


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