The future of health care in America is uncertain, but unsettling. Many experts predict a shortage of up to 200,000 physicians by the year 2020. Should this prediction come true, people of all ages and economic backgrounds will be adversely affected.
In August of 2006, the Census Bureau reported that the number of uninsured non-elderly Americans had increased by another 1.3 million to a total of 46.1 million. This was just another continuation of the trend that started in 2000. Unlike the case for several years prior to 2005, studies showed that even the number of children who became uninsured had increased. The safety net meant to cover the most fragile of citizens has begun to tear.
Most Americans obtain health insurance through their employer or their spouse’s employer. However, even this link is deteriorating. The Kaiser Family Foundation
Health insurance is voluntary for both employers and for employees. In other words, employers are not required by law to provide health insurance to their employees and if they do they have the option of choosing between many different options. Some offer full coverage for employees while others offer to pay a small portion of the premiums. Others are taking advantage of high-deductible health plans in which the employee may be responsible for thousands of dollars out of pocket before any insurance dollars kick in.
In addition, not all employees are even eligible for the health insurance offered by their employers.
Unfortunately, no age group is immune to the health care crunch. Seniors are facing tremendous challenges as well. Despite the aging of the population, many physicians are limiting the number of new Medicare patients they will take into their practices. Others are refusing new Medicare patients altogether. With the ongoing debate about how much Medicare will reimburse physicians for their services, they problem will likely continue to escalate over the next few years, if not longer.
The older we get the more medical problems we are likely to face. In addition to the toll on the body, there is a tremendous toll on the wallet. Many seniors are on a fixed income and have significant medical issues, thus do not have the option of getting another job to help pay for medical expenses. As a result, many do not take the medications prescribed simply because they cannot afford them. Even with Medicare Part D many seniors face tremendous challenges affording all their medications and for many the end result is a preventable hospitalization, or worse.
While the current health care crisis did not occur overnight and will be not be fixed anytime soon, there are steps that everyone can take to improve his or her chances of avoiding unnecessary suffering and catastrophic medical expenditures.
1. Learn how to partner in your health care. Communicate with your physician on a level that helps expedite your diagnosis and alleviates the need for excessive testing. There are various resources available online to assist you in learning how.
2. Keep track of your vital health information. For instance, ask for a copy of your lab test results and EKGs when you see a doctor. Having these handy in the case of an emergency can literally be life saving (and money saving)!
3. Keep a record of your medications, medical problems, surgeries, contact information, insurance information, and pharmacy with you at all times. You do not know when you will be rushed to an emergency 911 and chances are your doctor will not be on call in the middle of the night.