by Jason Hubbard PT, DPT, OCS, USAW-2
Our ability to exist as a cohesive group rests upon our ability to agree upon certain shared assumptions, like the idea that others deserve the same respect we ourselves crave. As such, when discussing the current state of US health care, I start with the following assumptions:
- No one should die because they cannot afford health care; and
- No one should have to undertake untenable amounts of debt (and/or declare bankruptcy) in order to afford health care.
Most people seem to be comfortable with these assumptions. The problem, though, is that our current health care system fails miserably on both counts. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health1 observed that nearly 45,000 deaths per year could be attributed to a lack of health insurance, while a 2019 Gallup poll2 revealed that 25% of respondents delayed medical treatment for a serious illness due to costs. In 2012, 55% of cancer survivors polled incurred more than $10,000 of debt, and 3% declared bankruptcy as a direct result of treatment-related costs3. An article in the Maine Law Review also found that medical debt was the primary driver of consumer bankruptcy in up to 18% of bankruptcy cases4. Anecdotally, the media is replete with accounts of individuals dying because they could not afford the care they needed.
This is not acceptable. In a country that spends more on health care per capita than any other “developed” nation, how is this tenable? If we hold to the assumptions stated above, which to most people seem simple and reasonable, how can we stand by and watch this system grind down the lives of our fellow men and women like so much grist for a mill the product of which is not even sufficient to keep us alive?