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U.S. Healthcare: What’s the Prognosis?

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U.S. Healthcare: What’s the Prognosis?

Many realize that something is not right with healthcare in the United States. Yet everyone is looking at the symptoms rather than the cause…

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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A story illustrates the complexity of healthcare costs in the United States.

A woman experiencing stomach issues went to a doctor, who recommended a diagnostic test called a HIDA scan. The woman’s health insurance policy had a high deductible, so she knew she would likely have to pay for the procedure out of pocket.

As she left the doctor’s office, she asked the receptionist a seemingly simple question: “How much is this going to cost?”

That question turned out to be not so simple. “The receptionist had no idea—and she had no way to check,” reported an article on the story on BenefitsPRO, a website for benefits professionals.

The woman’s husband, who is an employee benefits consultant, decided to compare prices for the HIDA procedure at various hospitals and medical centers in their area. The results ranged from $450 to $3,177.33. Some locations did not disclose rates.

After further research, he came across similar examples of pricing disparities across the U.S. His findings were based on information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS):

“A permanent pacemaker implant at Pennsylvania’s Phoenixville Hospital is billed at $211,534. Four hours away at Unitown Hospital, the same procedure costs $19,747, or 91 percent less.”

“The official bill rate to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, at Bayonne Hospital Center in New Jersey, is $99,690. At Lake Whitney Hospital in Texas, it’s $3,134, or 97 percent less. Thirty-five hospitals bill an average of more than $50,000 to treat COPD, while 161 bill less than $7,500.”

“A kidney and urinary tract infection faces a $132,569 bill at Crozer Chester Medical Center in Pennsylvania, but $6,224 at Wyoming County Community Hospital.”

Many factors can help explain these differences. Top quality care at a hospital that takes in more seriously ill patients tend to price their services higher than average. Different equipment, drug costs, protections from possible lawsuits, and new technologies also play into the prices.

But clearly there is a problem here. The complexity of medical service costs should not leave healthcare professionals speechless.

The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics conceded: It is “fairly challenging for anyone trying to answer the question, ‘Doc, how much is this going to cost me?’”

“Even if the doctor knew the charge, he or she would be unlikely to know the specifics of a particular patient’s insurance plan. The amount that a patient may owe is further affected by the setting or location of the health care good or service.”

Unsuspecting patients do not fare much better.

“The US healthcare system is so complex that more than half of consumers do not understand how to navigate it appropriately,” according to research by Accenture, a Fortune 500 consulting and processing services company. “This low healthcare system literacy is creating an estimated $4.8 billion annual administrative cost burden for payers.”

The likelihood of high expenses leaves many wary to seek medical help.

“For many Americans, a trip to the doctor hinges on whether they can afford to go, rather than if it’s a medical necessity,” CNBC reported. In 2019, 22 percent of the population skipped medical care because of costs, and 29 percent did not take their medications as prescribed because they felt they could not afford them. In addition, 1 in 7 Americans who live in families said they struggled to pay their medical bills after seeking medical help, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The affordability issue is keeping afloat the debate over whether the government should step in and regulate—or whether it is better left alone. Both sides of the political aisle, the public, news media, and medical experts share concern over the current picture. But few agree on exactly what reform is needed.

Diagnosing the fundamental problem with America’s healthcare industry is key in solving it.

A Complex System

Despite all the disagreement, one problem is undeniable: Medical costs are increasing.

Health spending per person in the U.S. has increased about sixfold from $1,848 in 1970 to $11,582 in 2019 (the year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation), after adjusting for inflation. In 2019, the last year for which full-year data is available, $3.8 trillion was spent on healthcare—making up 17.7 percent of the GDP—according to CMS numbers.

Although it is easy to point the finger at corporate greed, the reason for this overall trend is more complicated.

According to BioMed Central: “Health systems around the world are struggling with the unprecedented interacting challenges of—among others—increased life expectancy (and the concomitant increase in chronic illness, multi-morbidity and frailty), technological progress (both real and imagined), the convergence of ‘health’ and ‘care’ needs (along with increasingly messy disputes over who should pay for them), fragmentation of services, mismatches between workforce supply and system demand, a mushrooming of regulations and protocols, diminishing public trust in health professionals, and shrinking budgets.”

Add to this worsening health conditions among a fast-growing population. Six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have two or more, according to the CDC. The aging baby-boom generation and the worse-than-expected health of millennials is straining the system. Forty-four percent of older millennials (born between 1981 and 1988) have already contracted one or more chronic health conditions and are unhealthier than expected, a CNBC sponsored survey found. Their health is expected to continue to decline with age.

“At the end of the day, if these trends continue, then you’ll have higher health-care costs,” CNBC quoted Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Such trends would result in higher insurance premiums, which could create what some commentators call a “death spiral.”

“An ageing population, increased use of health services, and rising health-care costs are driving up the benefits insurers have to pay out each year,” The Conversation reported. “As pay-outs increase, insurers raise premiums, to recoup these costs.

“Rising premiums make health insurance less affordable and less attractive—particularly to younger and healthier people.

“As younger, healthier people drop their insurance, the insurance ‘risk pool’ gets worse; people who hold insurance are older and more likely to use their benefits and use them to a greater value.

“This increases the cost of premiums, younger people drop out, and the death spiral starts again.”

Already, the strain is showing as hospitals face a kind of Catch-22. Doctors, nurses, surgeons and other healthcare providers are required by law to treat all patients in emergencies, regardless of whether they are insured. Yet 33 million Americans under age 65 opt out of medical insurance, and many with high-deductible insurance plans still struggle to pay.

“Today’s fragmented health care system leaves hospitals with a daily balancing act to maintain their mission to the community while making ends meet,” the American Hospital Association (AHA) explained.

This is seen when patients experience unexpected emergencies and are unable to choose providers or opt out of treatment.

“One example is when a patient has a heart attack in a public setting, and a bystander calls an ambulance,” Definitive Healthcare reported. “The patient, who may not have been able to consent, would be on the hook for the cost of the ambulance ride and the care provided en route to the hospital.”

According to an AHA report of 4,985 hospitals, unpaid medical bills total nearly 6 percent of hospital expenses.

As a result, one-third of 100 hospital executives surveyed in 2018 reported their health system faced over $10 million in “bad debt,” which includes patient delinquency for extenuating circumstances such as unemployment.

An AHA fact sheet titled “Hospital Billing Explained” reported: “In addition to the high number of uninsured people in America, the hospital payment system itself is broken. Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid pay hospitals less than the cost of caring for the beneficiaries these programs cover; insurance companies negotiate deep discounts with hospitals; and many people who are uninsured pay little or nothing at all.”

Who Should Pay?

The U.S. currently has a hybrid system in which most costs are paid by the private sector—patients themselves—which is supplemented by government funding.

Some point to fully public healthcare services provided in other nations as a model for how the U.S. can reduce the burden on patients.

In such countries, medical costs are paid by taxing incomes on the entire population. In Sweden, for instance, an income tax beyond 50 percent helps fund the government to pay for 97 percent of healthcare costs. However, Swedes visit hospitals even for routine checkups, which can put those who need more urgent care on a waiting list that lasts months.

“Swedish law stipulates patients should wait no more than 90 days to undergo surgery or see a specialist,” Agence France-Presse reported. Yet, according to government data, 1 in 3 wait longer.

And this is for a population of 10 million. Imagine a system like this in a country with 33 times the population—the United States.

In 2019, The New York Times published a scenario in which the U.S. government provided universal healthcare for all. The main question the publication tried to answer is whether having the federal government foot the entire estimated $4.13 trillion medical bill would raise taxes for households.

The results were as complex as the healthcare system is today: “A number of economists have closely examined the possible costs of Medicare for all. Some estimate that such a system would increase the nation’s total health bill, and some find it would decrease it—but all of them see a huge increase in the amount the federal government would spend. The increase in federal spending represents more than triple all spending on the military, or about 80 percent of all government spending on things other than health care.”

This “would mean either large tax increases or cuts in other government spending—or both,” the publication continued. One estimate included “a new 32 percent payroll tax, on top of existing rates.”

But even a system of universal financial coverage would be useless if patients cannot be physically reached or transported to a hospital. This is a reality for many Americans today who live in a “care desert.”

According to a CNN analysis, 16 percent of residents in the U.S. mainland live in a community that is at least 30 miles from the nearest hospital. Reducing this number for a population spread across the third largest country by area would require constructing and funding more medical centers—which would amount to an even greater tax burden on citizens.

Addressing the Cause

The “U.S. healthcare system is a study in complexity,” Forbes reported. “The best medical treatments on the planet exist within a complicated medical marketplace. The most cutting-edge technology is often tethered to heavily siloed patient data that can’t be accessed or shared, and the spatial and social determinants shaping our local behaviors—by far the greatest contributors to our overall well-being—receive far less attention than the clinical and financial components accompanying them.”

Amid all this, it can seem impossible to cut through to the real causes of our issues. The article argued that “the greatest contributors to our overall well-being” are swept aside to squabble over costs and care quality.

Modern healthcare is a paradox. Although we are developing better medicines, experiencing longer average lifespans, increasing medical knowledge, and have improved techniques at combatting illness, the number of conditions Americans experience is slated to increase.

All groups involved—from policymakers to insurance and pharmaceutical companies to doctors on the frontlines—are working hard to deliver on the needs of American lives. But it seems the more policies governments pass, the more vaccines and pills companies distribute, and the more procedures patients receive from medical practitioners, the results are still mixed. It is one step forward, two steps back.

Clearly, we are missing something here!

The Book of Health

There is a healthcare model that does not involve massive insurance costs or high taxes and one that prevents disease. It is a solution that, if implemented nationwide, could provide an entire population with vibrant health and a low incidence of life-threatening illness. A system that could also intervene to heal those who are sick—to reverse life-endangering medical conditions.

While often swept aside as ancient Hebrew literature, the Bible contains many health principles that work.

Encyclopedia Britannica stated: “Though the Bible contains little on the medical practices of ancient Israel, it is a mine of information on social and personal hygiene. The Jews were indeed pioneers in matters of public health.”

As medical knowledge has advanced, biblical principles have remained relevant to medical science.

For example, the Bible emphasizes thorough washing after coming into contact with bodily fluids (Lev. 15:1-12). In the 17th century, doctors discovered that washing their hands prior to aiding childbirth largely prevented puerperal fever—a disease that took the lives of an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 mothers.

Another example from Scripture is a simple diet principle in Proverbs 30:8: “Feed me with the food allotted to me” (New King James Version).

The word translated allotted means “an appointed quantity.” Today, experts agree that the quantity of our food intake should match the energy we use to maintain weight and overall health. “Excess weight, especially obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood. Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers,” according to a Harvard Medical School article. “Obesity decreases the quality and length of life, and increases individual, national, and global healthcare costs.”

Many other biblical principles on how to stay healthy are also supported by medical experts of today.

True Reform

We have seen that the Bible contains hidden knowledge that, when applied, has been proven to work in our modern world. But that alone has not solved any of the issues societies face in regards to healthcare. They are still growing worse.

For the U.S., the solutions for healthcare all circle back to government. Should there be more involvement or less? How much should Washington intervene? While all these solutions have fallen flat, the truth is this: Government is central to solving a nation’s healthcare system.

In fact, it is all about government!

Think back to the health principles in the Bible. These come from the first five books of the Bible—which are often called the Law. Laws are put in place and enforced by a government.

These books were a constitution for the newly formed nation of Israel. Moses, who wrote the Law on God’s behalf, explained: “I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:5-6).

The Law applied to all of its subjects. It contained sweeping regulation that was to be enforced for the benefit of the citizens living under it.

If all these rules were applied under a government on Earth today, it would certainly bring many benefits, but it would not succeed overall. As the Bible states: “The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).

Only a perfect government—one that will never corrupt, never render poor decisions, never put self-gain above the needs of the people and the land on which they live—will solve humanity’s problems as well as guarantee health for generations to come.

That government would have to be ruled by the same Being who created the perfect laws that govern the human body. An institution headed by God Himself.

God plans to soon become actively involved in human affairs again. Isaiah 2:2-3 states: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

Notice: God will set up a government, and from that government will “go forth the law.” All nations will heed.

At that point God will do what mankind cannot—enforce that all people follow the rules that keep them healthy. As they do, He will heal those with irreversible conditions: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (35:5-6).

This is a picture of true and permanent healthcare reform. For a sick world, this should come as incredible, wonderful news!

For those eagerly anticipating such a world, there are steps you can take to prepare for it. In doing so, you will learn to better your health. To learn more about how it is possible to achieve a healthy body, brimming with life and energy, read the free booklet God’s Principles of Healthful Living.

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