Monday, May 04, 2009

Americans and their Vaunted Healthcare

I guess healthcare insurance in the United States is great while everyone is awash in cheap money and skyrocketing housing prices but it's not nearly so great when reality sets in. From the soon-to-be-defunct Boston Globe:

As the economic recession persists, people who are unemployed or worried about losing their jobs are putting off medical care and living with illnesses and conditions that aren't critical, but can be debilitating. Some are delaying having precancerous tumors removed; others are forgoing knee or shoulder surgery. While insurance often covers much of the costs associated with such procedures, there are usually deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars. For those lacking insurance, the price of most elective procedures is beyond their reach.

According to a recent Massachusetts Hospital Association survey, 59 percent of hospitals statewide reported a drop in elective surgeries in 2008 and into the beginning of fiscal 2009. The Red Cross, which supplies blood used in surgery, has also seen a drop in demand, causing it to cancel Massachusetts blood drives scheduled for March and April.

And as more people forgo treatment, hospitals are suffering financially, industry specialists say. Their profits depend heavily on lucrative surgical procedures paid for by private insurers. In addition to seeing fewer patients for elective day-surgeries and overnight treatments, hospital income from investments is dramatically down because of the economy. Profit margins at Massachusetts hospitals have dropped from an average of .7 percent in the last quarter of 2008 to .3 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to the hospital association.

To compensate, hospitals are cutting jobs, and canceling or postponing expansion projects. Nursing jobs, once abundant, for the first time in a decade are in short supply.

Is there a better argument than this for universal, single-payer health care?

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