Picture of a lot of prescription medications (pill bottles)
Posted by: Howard Dvorkin, CPA
Date of post: November 5, 2018

It's no longer in the headlines, but it's still in our heads.

I seldom write about the healthcare crisis in America — not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s too important.

Over the past two decades, I’ve struggled to convince Americans that their personal debt will eventually crush them if they don’t get a handle on it. Instead, during that time, both student loans and credit card balances blew past $1 trillion. Yes, that’s with a T.

I’ve learned when I combine the topic of debt with the topic of healthcare, Americans often tune out even more. It’s not that they’re stupid, far from it. They know this stuff is important. It’s just that medical costs are so daunting and time-consuming to deal with, they never get around to it.

At some point, however, a situation gets so bad, you’re forced to move it to the top of the priority list. I believe that time is now for healthcare.

That might sound odd, since it’s been just over a year since healthcare made big headlines. It was last September when Congress failed to overturn Obamacare. Since then, we’ve had other national crises to distract us.

I’ve learned, however, that you can often identify a crisis by looking at small studies and surveys. Much like a tiny tremor might be the sign of a future earthquake, research projects that don’t make the news can often be the harbinger of big news later.

If that doesn’t make sense, let me give you some examples…

1. Medicare for all or none?

Already this election cycle, there have been some candidates campaigning for and against a concept called “Medicare for all.” I don’t want to dive into that topic here, but I do want to point out a recent study from eHealth that showed, “37 percent of survey respondents said they had skipped or delayed medical care in the past to save money.”

Even worse, 51 percent of these Medicare recipients “worry about their ability to afford their Medicare deductibles and co-payments.” So the conclusion here is: Even if you give everyone Medicare, more than a third won’t get treatment and more than half might not be able to afford the cost anyway.

2. Physician, heal thyself

Money problems don’t just hurt patients. They hurt doctors, too.

A nonprofit called The Physicians Foundation polled 9,000 doctors and found more than three-fourths have “experienced burnout in their medical practices.” Why? Simple. They need to see more patients in less time to make a living while paying off their steep medical school bills.

Also terrible: They don’t feel they can do anything to fix this stressed-out system. “Only 10 percent of physicians feel the ability to impact the healthcare system,” the poll revealed. That’s bad news, because if the doctors within the healthcare system don’t think they can fix it, what chance do politicians and the rest of us have?

3. Choking on the medicine

Remember those old stories about the Pentagon spending $435 for a hammer and $640 for a toilet seat? They have nothing on what hospitals charge for medicine.

“Nearly one in five hospitals marks up medicine prices 700 percent or more,” says a recent analysis from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. That means a drug that should cost you $150 might total more than $1,000.

I’m not going to delve into the ethics of whether hospitals should do this, or even why they do this. (Defenders say it’s the broken healthcare system that requires hospitals to treat those with no insurance or meager insurance, which forces them to pass along the costs to those who can pay.)

Instead, I just want to point out — again — that the system is so broken, that patients, doctors, and hospitals are cynical about ever fixing it.

The solution? If all three team up with a laser-focused federal government, maybe we can solve this. Sadly, that means getting past hyper-partisanship and avoiding new controversies that sap our attention, motivation, and money. We can do it. I’m just not sure we’ll do it in time.