League of Women Voters Forum On Health Care And Why It’s So Complicated

Sep 29, 2017

Credit Natalia Merzlyakova 123rf stock photo

  The Hopkinsville-Christian County League Of Women Voters held a forum this week with health care experts from different backgrounds to tackle why health costs are rising in the U.S.

Health care is complicated - something President Donald Trump has pointed out. And a community discussion in Hopkinsville reaffirmed that point for many in attendance. NPR reports that a 2016 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows deductibles rose eight times faster than wages in the past 10 years. Attendees of the forum were there to try to understand why healthcare is complicated and expensive.

The key speakers included Higgins Insurance owner Mack Major, retired physician Dr. Terry Fuqua, and Baptist Health Madisonville Vice President of Research Michael Howard. All agree that the current health care system is unsustainable. Howard said if he could, he’d go back in time and change the system.

 

“It is in my view irretrievably broken. And people are going to keep screwing around with it as a political football and people are going to start dying,” Howard said.

 

The forum served as an educational opportunity to learn about the issues behind what the speakers called a “failing system.”

 

Here are the main issues that were touched on:

High Costs Of Medical Procedures and Prescription Drugs

Fuqua talked at lengths about the high costs of prescription drugs and medical procedures in the United States, which he said he believes to be the underlying cause of rising healthcare costs.

“When talking about healthcare policy in America, people usually jump to who should pay the bills, mulling past what should be their first question: why exactly are the bills so high?” Fuqua said.

He said there are few attempts to bargain or lower prices with pharmaceutical companies in the United States. He also stated that medical procedures are much higher in the United States. According to PBS news report, the United States pays over double of what other developed countries pay for health care.

Struggling Rural Hospitals

The struggles that rural hospitals face was also the center of discussion. Howard said rural hospitals, like primary care centers and local county hospitals, only make a 3% profit margin. He said most patients that go to these rural hospitals are on Medicaid, which costs the hospital money. He said rural hospitals can’t afford to hire specialty doctors like oncologists or neurologists. Meaning that when it comes time for a patient to get that kind of treatment, they have to refer them to a larger hospital in a bigger city.

“It almost feels like the current healthcare system is setup to bring down rural hospitals and move all activity to urban centers,” Howard said.

Forum attendees brought up the concern of  accessibility to urgent medical care if a rural community loses their local hospital. A member of the progressive protest group Pennyrile Indivisible said she lost a relative from a heart attack in rural Georgia and was too far away from a hospital to receive treatment in time.

Lawsuits, 'Defensive Medicine'

The cost to avoid lawsuits or pay for lawsuits in the medical field can drive up the price of health care. Major said the fear of lawsuits and misdiagnosis will force doctors to run more tests than needed.

 

“There’s a tremendous amount of abuse and fraud in the system,” Major said. “And ‘defense medicine,’ as Dr. Fuqua has indicated… doctor’s order test after test to avoid misdiagnosis.”   

According to the National Institutes Of Health, “defense medicine” costs estimated to $55.6 billion in 2008 dollars, or 2.4% of total health care spending. But Fuqua said it’s nothing to compare to the factor of overpriced prescription drugs and medical procedures.

Solutions? 

Though the forum did not focus on solutions to these issues, attendees brought up the argument of adapting a single payer health care system. Fuqua and Howard agreed that it would be a possible solution, but not without compromises. Howard said single payer would force taxes to rise an exuberant amount because health care accounts for such a large portion of the economy. Fuqua said even though it could bring lower wages that would push away young people from becoming doctors, it might produce doctors that aren’t motivated by money.

“People are motivated by things other than greed,” Fuqua said. “Hopefully that would produce a new kind of group of doctors.”

Hopkinsville-Christian County League Of Women Voters plan to hold an another health care forum in the Spring. President Martha White said she believes the group might focus on the political influences against the health care system, since restrictions on lobbyists was an issue attendees seemed to have the most questions about.