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Location: Wake Forest, North Carolina, United States

People tell me that my sarcasm and cynicism will get me into trouble some day. We'll see.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Two Die so One Might Live

Two die so one might live. And then a short time later, that person dies. Here's the deal. Guy goes into the hospital, let's call him Phil, and gets diagnosed with this really bad illness. The good news is that there is a very effective treatment for it. The bad news is that the treatment costs a fortune. It also has a bunch of side effects that are a real nuisance for Phil to live with. And the prognosis is, even with treatment, he probably won't live beyond a year. But the family's thrilled. To get just one more year with her husband, Phil's wife would give the world.

Fortunately, she won't have to go quite that far, for Phil has insurance. Instead, his $100,000 a year treatment gets paid via his health care plan, and the lucky fellow lives another twelve months, albeit with debilitating pain as a side effect of his medication.

The bulk of the costs of his treatment gets spread among the other participants of his health plan. As more and more miracle treatments come over the horizon, people who would have died of diseases 10, 15, or 20 years ago are now living longer lives.

But at what cost? Today's health care costs are staggering. It now costs more per patient to provide health care than ever before. Though it's great that modern technology can provide "wonder cures" to give many patients longer (though not necessarily better) lives, this phenomenon comes at a price that cannot be measured in dollars. Instead, people.

Who, you ask? Well, the under- or non-insured, of course. Let's take a hypothetical couple, and call them Harry and Harriet. Harry worked 25 years as a technician in a laboratory, and Harriet is a retired teacher. Harry got "outsourced" and lost his job. Before you know it, Harry and Harriet find that they can no longer afford health insurance - the premiums are just way too high. So they take the risk and drop coverage, choosing instead to pay for treatment out of pocket.

So that works for a few years, but then Harriet develops cancer. Since now she has a pre-existing condition, she no longer qualifies for affordable health insurance (not that the insurance was affordable before.) What would normally cost H&H about $1200 a month would now cost them over three grand a month because of Harriet's new diagnosis.

Bottom line - Harriet dies from her cancer. A few months later, Harry dies - from loneliness.

But Phil lived. For one year. In pain. And at great cost - the lives of Harry and Harriet, who died partly because they couldn't afford to pay for Phil's treatment.

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