As medical practitioners, we feel the stress of the nation’s health care issues every day. Continual paperwork, denial of claims, and ever-changing regulations put non-stop pressure on our offices. But the stress of a fractured health care system is impacting our patients’ lives even more significantly.
News readers around the world were stunned by last month’s story of the woman in Boston who, after having her leg trapped between a subway car and a platform, refused to allow an ambulance to be called for her because she couldn’t afford it. This is an extreme example, but it is no longer unusual for patients to refuse needed care or skip important follow-up visits, simply because of the cost involved.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the uninsured who are financially unable to get medical help in the U.S., but also those with insurance. As deductibles and co-pays continue to rise, and the list of what is covered grows more and more specific, even those with “good” insurance find their bills mounting. A study published in January by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that the cost of health care is a major life stressor for 2/3 of Americans, both those with incomes below and above $50,000 per year.
“Given the uncertain fate of our nation's health care system, it is not surprising that the majority of adults surveyed expressed concerns about access to health care and costs," says APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr, pointing out the ironic fact that “If stress becomes chronic, it can lead to significant health consequences.”
Patients who are afraid of healthcare costs often do not seek care when they need it. Early detection cannot happen if the patient does not come in until the symptoms become unbearable. Similarly, early detection cannot happen if the insurance company will not pay for diagnostic tests, or demand a co-pay the patient cannot pay out of pocket.
When patients see that the insurance companies and hospitals value profit over patients, they no longer trust their care providers. Even though the doctors have just as much conflict with the insurance providers, often the patient feels it’s a “me vs. them” relationship where the doctor is one of “them”. The doctor-patient relationship is damaged by the ongoing fight for profit even when you’re on the same side.
Other reasons for healthcare related stress ranged from the cost of insurance itself to rising medication costs, non-covered tests or procedures, and the possibility of changing coverage due to changing regulations. Younger people reported higher levels of stress about their health care than those over 65. Millennials and Gen-Xers are particularly worried about the future of healthcare in the US as well as the lack of coverage for mental health care. The stress of paying for health care should not be a factor in our patients’ health or mental wellness issues.
As care providers, we often feel powerless in the face of the edicts handed down by the government and health insurance companies. But we need to be aware that however helpless we feel, our patients have even less of a voice than we do. We must be their advocates, and make our views clear to the powers that be, medicine is about healing, not profits and paperwork.
As a member of the Emerald Coast Medical Association, you can add your voice to that of your peers and colleagues. On your own, it is hard to effect change in the system, but together we make a stronger, louder statement. If you are not yet a member, we encourage you to try out a meeting with no obligation.
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