Health Care Cost Conversation

At the end of this post is a copy of the letter sent by 15 U.S. senators, including Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell, to President-elect Barack Obama in regards to health care reform.

The letter is signed by seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one, Joe Lieberman, whose party depends on where we are in the political cycle.

Here at the Kitsap Sun we are just finishing signing up for medical benefits for next year. I’m making an assumption that this is the time of year a lot of companies have their employees signing up for benefits. In our case the company pays a set percentage of the premium. If I pick the same plan we had this year, the amount more I’ll be paying will be two-to-three times the pay increase I’ll receive. So next year my paycheck will be smaller. The upside is I still have a job.

I’m curious to know what kind of health care expectations you have for yourself in the coming year. Will your costs be increasing, or have you found a way to make it cheaper?

To read the letter, please continue.

A signed copy of the Senators’ letter is available at: http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/112108haa_obama.pdf

The Honorable Barack Obama
President-Elect
Washington, DC 20270

November 20, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama:

As former colleagues in the United States Senate, we would like to congratulate you on your election as the 44th President of the United States and offer our commitment to working with you in a bipartisan fashion to reform our health care system.

As the next President, you will face many challenges, with restoring our nation’s struggling economy heading the list. With most Americans getting their health care through their employers, the growing numbers of layoffs also mean that more and more of our citizens are not only losing their jobs, they are losing their health care.

As Members who have offered our support for bipartisan healthcare proposals, we respectfully suggest that our current economic challenges call for speedy reform of our health care system. There is no doubt that health care costs are a leading economic concern for families; in fact, medical bills account for nearly half of all bankruptcy filings. Americans’ economic insecurities will persist and worsen unless the Congress and the White House begin to work together early next year to tackle the challenges of health care costs and coverage. An efficient and more equitable health care system will unleash economic growth and reduce the financial drain our current health care system is having on American families’ budgets and the economy as a whole.

In the coming months, you will be receiving suggestions and proposals for health care reform from Congressional leaders and stakeholders. We see this as a sign that after decades of debate, Congress is finally ready to tackle what is unquestionably one of the most important and challenging issues facing our nation.

Over the last two years, we have come together as Democrats and Republicans to cosponsor the Healthy Americans Act because we believe that for health reform to succeed it must be bipartisan. We also believe that in these tough economic times with soaring budget deficits, it is critical to fix our broken health care system without breaking the bank. We believe Congress must explore financing mechanisms that would maximize the use of existing health care dollars and ideally produce savings in the future. To that end, it will be critical to work with the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation to find ways to meet health care reform goals while also maintaining fiscal responsibility.

While bipartisan agreement on details is yet to be achieved, we believe the following principles outline the best way to reform the nation’s health care system and create the best “roadmap” to build bipartisan consensus on reform. We would like to work with you to enact legislation that accomplishes these goals:

Ensure that all Americans have health care coverage;
Make sure health care coverage is affordable and portable;
Implement strong private insurance market reforms;
Modernize federal tax rules for health coverage;
Promote improved disease prevention and wellness activities, as well as better management of chronic illnesses;
Make health care prices and choices more transparent so that consumers and providers can make the best choices for their health and health care dollars; and
Improve the quality and value of health care services.

We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and your advisors to discuss how we can work together to advance these principles and enact meaningful health care reform legislation in the 111th Congress.

Thank you for your time and consideration and we look forward to fruitful discussions in the future.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

13 thoughts on “Health Care Cost Conversation

  1. Well, I could get a cheaper plan at Group Health, but I prefer my private provider group. They have all the specialties and diagnostic equipment right here on this island, and we don’t have to go to Tacoma or Seattle.

    I think those people, especially those with children, that can’t afford private insurance should get help from the government, since without good health they can’t work, and things go downhill for them from there.

    Yes, my premiums go up every year, and at our age, in the 70s, good health care is a priority, so we find that on our fixed income we have to forgo eating out, vacations, not spend on unnecessary things. I have a TV older than you are. Works great with a cable hook-up. Don’t need anymore than that and this computer.

    The upside for you is that you have a job, and for us it’s that we have enough to live comfortably in our own home, have no chronic diseases. Medicare and our supplemental paid for my husband’s prostate surgery, and we get to deduct from our taxes for premiums and travel to doctors and pharmacy. We have a great pharmacy plan–only $5 for generic, $10 for brand name, and we can go to any pharmacy.

    Stay well, eat healthy, and save as much money as you can; if you live long enough, you’re going to need it for health care for sure.

    Emilie
    Port Orchard

  2. As a Federal retiree, I have really good health care insurance. It’s not perfect, and I’ve had my quarrels with them, (won most, lost a few) but I do not have to fear the cost of going to the doctor when something goes wrong with me. I only pay a small part of the cost of this insurance, and we taxpayers pay for the balance of it. I pay a small copay per office visit and 20% of most other bills.

    I wish that everyone could have this kind of insurance and that they could have the kind of medical care that I have had, if they need it.

    I am thinking about changing from High Option to Standard Option for 2009, as it will save me about $82 per month, if I don’t get sick. High Option premiums are being increased for 2009. I’ve had three calendar years where High Option more than paid for itself, and I could have spent less money in all of the other years by selecting Standard Option, which has a $350 deductible.

    The years that High Option paid off were bad years, medically speaking. I am hopeful that I won’t have a year like any of those again. The last one was in 2002.

  3. “I’m curious to know what kind of health care expectations you have for yourself

    in the coming year. Will your costs be increasing, or have you found a way to

    make it cheaper?”

    One way I began was to quit a forty-year smoking habit in 1997. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) took over and life as I knew it changed forever.

    Trouble is COPD often is the opener for other medical acts to follow. My COPD apparently wanted another lung disease and so Sarcoidosis became act two. A open lung biopsy at the UWMC cinched the diagnosis.

    Sarcoidosis was followed by Sleep Apnea, RLS, Psoriasis, Arthritis (bone on bone, left hip) and the latest and most painful…weeping leg sores.

    The point of this disclosure is to emphasize that our health is largely up to US.

    Had I taken a early warning Spirometry test, that indicated COPD was ahead and I knew what I faced if I didn’t quit smoking, I can assure you I would have stopped and never developed this disease that turned my life upside down.

    My health care expectations this coming year are to heal my legs again, keep breathing, exercise myself back into fitness and make the trip I’ve dreamed of making since 2004…taking my dogs and cycling the route of the ALAW’s Big Ride Across America and, YES, yelling COPD once a day.

    Excluding medical treatment and medications, the single most important thing COPDers (or persons with almost any chronic disease) can do to help him or herself is EXERCISE.

    Get educated about the disease you have; find a ACTIVE and progressive support group. The one I found that saved my life was EFFORTS (Emphysema Foundation for Our Right to Survive) http://www.emphysema.net

    What did I learn? I learned to go beyond the shortness of breath – go beyond what most any doctor would prescribe and to keep moving. One doctor told me that starting out I should not get my heart rate above 100. I laughed. My heart rate jumped to 100 just getting up from a chair.

    Muscle utilizes oxygen better than flab. We cannot get better – to be the best we can be for a quality life – unless we work beyond what we think we can do to be fit.

    These are a few of my opinions as a medical patient and my observations from eleven years as a patient.

    We need both aerobic and strengthening exercises.

    I discovered the recumbent trike and learned I can cycle myself more fit and I dared again.

    My Trek Tri Island cycling trip was the first time in seven years that I had left home.

    Physicians will answer their patient’s questions but many of us do not know what to ask. What is ahead for us? Lung disease can be isolating and most of us do not look sick.

    I stopped a previously active life with my favorite organizations. The final straw…I had a meeting at 10:00am one Saturday and an hour drive away. I was dressed and ready but had a few minutes and sat down to rest a moment. I awoke at 1:00pm.

    Did you know there is no support group in Kitsap County for Arthritis or Psoriasis?

    Kids are usually the ones to get Psoriasis and do their best to cover it up. It can be disfiguring at a tough time when kids are halfway between being a kid and becoming an adult.

    The Psoriasis support group is needed so kids can learn they do not have to hide…that there are many people affected just like them and patient to patient, they learn how to live a normal life with a skin disease.

    The UW Professor who diagnosed my Psoriasis was the first physician to suggest I go online and find a support group.

    Where do patients get their information and learn how to not only live with their medical conditions but to turn it on its head and get on with life? They do not know.

    They are handed an appointment card for the next visit and prescriptions for the needed medications.

    Are patients told of possible side effects from some of their medications or that over the counter drugs can interfere or be harmful to their prescribed medications?

    Are patients told to investigate online, told of support groups, or asked if they would like to be in touch with volunteer patients to help the newly diagnosed patient with positive and hopeful information?

    Patients are NOT EDUCATED!

    Why not give patients positive input and, if able, put them onto recumbent Trikes for fun and exercise? Wheelchairs help, unnecessarily, too many people get weaker.

    A few years ago, I met a thirty something woman during a lecture at a local garden spot. We began talking and I admired her wheelchair and complimented her how well she moved it.

    I had my walking sticks and told her about my recumbent trike – that I was getting stronger and more endurance.

    She mentioned how weak she was getting. I asked why she was not riding a recumbent trike instead of the wheelchair and mentioned I would be on my recumbent trike in a race against wheelchairs the following weekend. I suggested she could do it next year with me. Her face lit up with the possibilities…

    I gave her names of recumbent trike manufacture’s that make special needs Trikes. She only needed one pedal and (maybe) hand pedals. Here was a vivacious girl going to waste in a wheelchair when she could be exploring a world as a person living a quality life.

    People are not ‘handicapped’ or ‘disabled’ unless they want to be. We are physically challenged – not dead or useless.

    Whatever the patient situation is, it can be better with education, information and a positive SUPPORT GROUP.

    Informed patients live life to the fullest – differently, but a quality life nonetheless.

    If we educate the patient, caregiver, family, friends and the public, we will have patients who live a quality life along with their caregiver and loved ones.

    It is vital that we educate and offer early detection for medical conditions.

    Prevent, don’t just treat. If treating, educate the patient for a quality life and health care costs will plummet.

    In my opinion,

    Sharon O’Hara

  4. Sharon, That was a bold and candid post. Whatever you may feel you gave up by writing it, won’t compare to the multiple benefits many will get from the sincerity of the information. Thank you.

  5. For a Federal Health Care plan to work, I think it will have to be bipartisan driven. Government employees and most union workers enjoy health care benefit packages that are extreme in many ways compared to the rest of the public. They are also undervalued by most who receive them. They don’t know how good they have it or how much pay they could be receiving in lieu of those benefits. Universal coverage will diminish the value of this benefit to government hiring practices and the unions. Selfish politics will come into play.

    To be affordable: the bureaucracy will have to be streamlined, we will need tort reform and lawsuit limits, and electronic data bases will have to become standardized. Hospitals, clinics, physicians, and pharmacies will have to start charging everybody the same rates for the same products and services. There are powerful lobbies that will be against these things.

    Philosophical differences will be touted as reasons for opposition, but many will be fronts for selfish greed to keep the system the way it is.

  6. I’m lucky Tom, I’ve got good coverage – far more than I needed prior to 1997. This is not the case with many/most? people…especially young people raising a family today.

    You clearly have an eye on the bigger picture, but I’d like to add some observations.

    Medicare pays one price, usually far less than the physician charges…not a surprise then that fewer doctor’s take Medicare patients and then only take a percent of Medicare patients. They couldn’t afford more and they are the only profession I know of that is limited in the amount of money they make.

    Our ‘free’ enterprise system’ should hold true for ALL professions.

    Lack of patient education throws the health care costs through the roof too.

    Unless a (lung) patient has learned Pursed Lip Breathing, PLB, the patient can become short of breath, panic and call 911 and rushed to the ER when they could have brought their breathing under control by measured breathing.

    I do it and know it works. My blood/oxygen level is usually around 94 (100 is great) I bought an Oximiter to check it against how I ‘felt’ and usually wore it around my neck.

    On a flight home about a year ago, I was over tired, hadn’t slept for a couple of days (left my heavy and bulky BiPap machine and mask home) and as the aircraft rose to flight range, felt myself ‘drop’ and checked the Oximeter I had hung around my neck. My blood/oxygen level read 73. I sat quietly, didn’t talk and deliberately began PLB until the numbers rose to the low 90’s and I maintained until we landed at SeaTac.

    The attendant’s on my flights knew I might have a problem, that I might pass out … and how cool she was. She didn’t appear to be watching but the attendant noticed my dilemma and quietly asked if I was okay…no fuss, no muss. I nodded yes and she moved on.

    The point IS – how many COPDers KNOW, with certainty, that they can PLB their shortness of breath to bring it under control?

    I walked with a lung patient friend after a meeting when she began to have trouble breathing and panicked to get into her car for the … (emergency inhaler), shoved it into her mouth and gulped the spray down…all wrong. She was scared and clearly didn’t know what to do.

    We are looking at wasted medical costs because the patient is NOT TRAINED .. and the family panic too.

    Capri is a local pulmonary and cardiac rehab training. They do a good job of educating and rehab in a gentle way. They may be in other places by now, but they are located in Poulsbo and Bremerton. Ask your doctor about Capri and rehab.

    Harrison Medical Center also has superb rehab physicality.

    FYI: The only physician I know about that actually takes the time to discuss physical fitness and recumbent trikes to some of his patients (lung) has an office on Campbell Way.

    BI has a much needed caregiver support group – they are on top of things!

    The costs of training, educating, and early detection testing is minuscule compared to the health care costs without it.
    Sharon O’Hara

  7. “they are the only profession I know of that is limited in the amount of money they make. ”

    I wasn’t clear. I meant …Limited to the amount Medicare (Medicaid too?) will pay for each procedure.

    The physician’s office utilities/overhead/employee health care rise, but they can’t collect more than the set amount each service provider will pay. Medicare, as I understand it…is lowest pay.

  8. Great post up there, Sharon. I’d rather just let it sit and sink in than go into details regarding my thoughts on the issue.

    Suffice to say we’re employers.

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