I’m a little behind on this one, but I just finished reading last week’s Grand Rounds, hosted by Kim, an ER nurse at Emergiblog, who did a wonderful job. I discovered a new Colorado blog, Rachel’s Diabetes Tales, with a post about Jay Cutler of the Denver Broncos and his recently diagnosed diabetes. Sure, he’s a diabetes hero, but as Rachel points out, so are all the other people out there who are working every day to manage their diabetes. Welcome to the blogosphere, Rachel. As usual, Grand Rounds was great, but one of the posts in particular caught my eye: an article from Dr. Wes about our Healthcare Hindenburg. Especially in light of today’s precipitous stock market decline following the failure of the bailout plan to pass in the House of Representatives, a post comparing the financial industry to the health care industry is timely and telling.
Dr. Wes writes about how our health care system is facing a bubble similar to the one the housing market experienced a few years ago: health care expenses are rising far faster than inflation, and increasing numbers of people are finding themselves unable to pay for health care – which is just as basic a necessity as housing. Over the last decade, housing prices skyrocketed and homeownership became out of reach for many families. So the rules changed. People “qualified” for mortgages who wouldn’t have been able to a generation earlier, and now we find ourselves in the situation we’re in today, with a shaky stock market, record foreclosures, and a devalued dollar. The similarities to the health care industry are eerie. And the size of the health care industry – 3.2 trillion dollars a year of revenue – makes it a huge player in our economy, in addition to the obvious impact it has on our health.
Dr. Wes points out that we tend to think that huge institutions can’t fail, and will always continue to grow and prosper. Institutions like Washington Mutual? There is no guarantee that the health care industry won’t need a government bailout in the future. And the current over utilization of health care (by people who have access to care and health insurance that foots the bill) is only likely to increase the problem. Dr. Wes wonders “how any health care system, much like the foregone housing market, can sustain itself with our current similar mindset of universal, limitless healthcare for all.” I’m not sure about the “universal” concept. I think that our current system is far from universal – the 46 million American without health insurance don’t realistically have access to health care, which makes our system significantly less than universal. But other than that, I agree with a lot of the points Dr. Wes makes. We’re continually grasping for the latest and greatest technology in health care (with prices increasing all the while) which essentially keeps putting basic health care out of reach for more people. We over-test, over-medicate, and over-treat patients who have health insurance, while those without health insurance struggle to pay for even the most basic of care.