Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Lifespan: How Much Longer Will We Tolerate Disparities In Healthcare in the US?

Dr Kevin R. Campbell, MD, FACC

CEO, K-Roc Consulting, LLC

While Thomas Jefferson may have written that “All Men are Created Equal” in our Declaration of Independence, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to healthcare in the United States. As a physician, I have pledged to ease suffering and heal those who are sick. However, I find that my job has become increasingly difficult over the last several years. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has limited access for my patients, increased the administrative burden on healthcare providers and created a market that favors those who “have” over the “have-nots”. I am also deeply concerned about the impact of the “so called” replacement passed by the US House of Representatives last week.

Problems (and questions) remain after the latest repeal efforts—how will we cover those Americans who need healthcare the most—the chronically ill, the poor, and the marginalized? Why is there STILL no tort reform? Why did we not address the issue of competition among insurers across state lines? What about limiting drug costs by holding big pharma accountable?

Now, there is more evidence that healthcare in the US remains broken….This week, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that WHERE you live within the United States may have a significant impact on your longevity.   IN fact, in 2014 there was a spread of nearly 20 years in life expectancy based solely on which county in the United States in which you lived. Counties where residents are more educated and more affluent had the longest lifespan and, as you might expect, those counties where residents are poorer and have no post secondary education have the shortest.

Those that are educated and have more financial options are able to focus on prevention and healthy lifestyle habits.  Those that “have not” do not have the access to preventative care and cannot afford quality insurance.  While they remain insured “on paper” they are effectively uninsured due to issues with access and cost.

Until we focus on prevention for ALL, we will continue to see such disparities and we will continue to have the most expensive healthcare in the world.  

The new Republican plan leaves me with little hope.  Those that are already marginalized will remain marginalized.  Those who need preventative care will be placed into high-risk pools and could be “priced out.” While the House Bill does say that pre existing conditions will be covered, I fear that by leaving much of this to the States, we will likely create a system in which many are left out. Alternatively, if we were to create a system where we address chronic disease EARLY in the process and focus on prevention of complications and the proper management of the condition, we are likely to be able to close the ever increasing “lifespan gap” that is demonstrated by this most recent study.

Any real reform must include things that will lower cost, increase access, improve choice and care AND expect engagement and individual responsibility from patients.

  1. Tort Reform—We can no longer allow for frivolous and predatory lawsuits against physicians. Fear of litigation increases costs by forcing doctors to practice “defensive medicine” and results in the ordering of costly and often unnecessary diagnostic tests.
  2. Allow insurers to compete across state lines-Many counties across the US have either 1 or NO choices for ACA exchange insurers. This lack of choice results in a limited network of physicians and may create significant issues with access to care. We MUST allow patients to choose the doctor that is right for him/her. We must force insurers to compete with one another for our business and allowing them to cross state lines is likely to lower costs, improve care and improve choice. By providing better access in ALL areas of the country, we may be able to lower the life expectancy gap.
  3. Place limits on drug prices-Currently, many patients cannot afford the drugs they need. Lack of compliance with treatments for common diseases may be a major contributor to the life expectancy gap. How can we expect patients to improve their health status if they cannot follow their treatment plan due to a lack of financial resources? We can no longer allow drug makers to charge US consumers far more than is charged elsewhere in the world. We must hold big pharma accountable if they are found to be price gouging.
  4. Individual responsibility. I do firmly believe that patients can play a role in improving their own life expectancies as well. Patients must engage with their healthcare providers and must participate in their own treatment plan. The treatment of a disease is a team effort. Doctor and patient must work together—BUT we must be allowed to collaborate without government interference in the exam room.

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One response to “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Lifespan: How Much Longer Will We Tolerate Disparities In Healthcare in the US?

  1. Conrad Derrick

    So what do you propose in the way of tort reform? Actual damage limits? No punitive damages for reckless conduct? Attorneys fee and cost awards against a losing Plaintiff? The notion of frivolous lawsuits is something that is greatly exaggerated. In South Carolina, where I live, there is a requirement that before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed, the Plaintiff must obtain an affidavit from a medical expert in the same area of practice as the Defendant which states specifically the manner in which the Defendant’s conduct deviated from the standard of care. That requirement means that there are no frivolous lawsuits being filed here. That does not mean that a jury hearing a case could not find against the Plaintiff based on all the evidence presented at trial, which would exonerate the Defendant physician. That is why we have juries to determine the facts and apply the law. Unfortunately, doctors do make mistakes, and when they do, the results can be life changing. Patients who have been wronged by negligent physicians deserve to have their claims resolved without having to jump over one hurdle after another disguised as “tort reform”. In my opinion, the rising cost of medical care in this country is not due to “defensive medicine” and “frivolous lawsuits,” it is the result of GREED in the health care industry- hospitals that reward medical practices that send patients to them for questionable tests, drug manufacturers who wine and dine physicians so that they will prescribe their latest medications, device representatives who market questionably effective devices like the Zoll Lifevest, and physicians who spend five minutes with a patient and then charge them $200 for an “extended office visit”.

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