Vail Valley Voices: Crisis in health care? |

Vail Valley Voices: Crisis in health care?

Jill E. Kovacevich
Vail, CO, Colorado

At a town meeting, a gentleman asked, “Is there really a health care crisis or just inefficiencies?” No matter which side of the issue you’re on, this is a legitimate question.

If our health-care system is in crisis, how has it happened and what are the treatment options?

While you may not care or more likely don’t have the time or the energy to care in a depressed economy, the answers are being used to substantiate the current proposals for health-care reform.

If you feel confident you are not a “reformist,” think again as the system is reforming itself with or without citizen input or new legislative policy. In that regard, it is imperative to ask about options to improve the systems’ relative health now and in the future.

The rising cost of health care is very apparent in our everyday lives. It’s evident in increased premiums, decreased benefits, increased deductibles, higher co-pays, increased coinsurance, higher prices for medicines and higher cost for cash-pay medical services.

What we may not know is the severity of the problem and whether we must find ways to make minor, modest or sweeping change — and whether that change should be now or later.

It may be easy to suggest we need improved health care, but it is much harder to determine how. It is even more difficult to leave the question unanswered, the system undiagnosed, and without a future prognosis or treatment plan.

Before we determine whether our health-care system is healthy, has a slight virus or is or chronically ill, we have to know what it should look like when it’s in relatively good condition.

By its very definition a nation’s health-care system should promote health among its population (and communities), ensuring access to quality care at a sustainable cost. That is, accessible, quality health care at a sustainable cost.

A crisis occurs when the system is unable to meet one or more of these requirements. This is true whether the system is supported by capitalism, socialism or whether the system survives in the free market or requires governmental subsidy.

Undeniably, our nation’s current health-care system is facing escalating costs, coupled with a shortage of service providers and increased patient demand. This situation is compounded by our immediate economic crisis (including government bailouts, mortgage foreclosures, increased unemployment, etc.), resulting in a dangerous, unstable and unhealthy condition for the economy and health care.

This is the very definition of crisis.

The system is already burdened with cost overrides, insufficient infra structure and declining revenues. It’s no wonder the high cost of health care has reached staggering proportions and is unable to apply its own corrective measures. This is true from every perspective within the industry.

What industry stakeholders can’t agree on is how to manage cost containment now and in the future, separately and collectively, with and without reform. This is what makes the crisis so ripe for political intervention. Right or wrong it feeds the policymakers’ generous helpings of “Let me show you what we can do,” especially when the industry itself has no ability or willingness to treat itself. Each stakeholder in the health-care industry claims to be suffering from a health-care crisis greater than their industry partners. Private payers warn premiums will continue to rise, provider economics show increased costs to capture decreasing revenues and patients struggle to pay their portion of premiums, deductibles or cash services.

In future columns, I’ll look at each stakeholder, including the private insurance payer, providers, public insurance payers (state and federal), patients and a host of suppliers including drug companies, software vendors and others to get the pulse on America’s health care.

Jill E. Kovacevich manages Doctors On Call in Avon.

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