People in this country who are sick see the health care system in a worse light than those who are well, according to a new poll by NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They are more likely to believe cost is an urgent problem, that health care personnel don’t communicate sufficiently and that the quality of care has gotten worse in the last five years.
Even people with “good” insurance are paying more for their care, and medical bills count as a factor in two-thirds of bankruptcies in America. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are very good at squeezing customers, hospitals and physicians, although they seem to be plenty generous with politicians.
Nearly half of sick people surveyed said the cost of care caused financial hardship — and that included people with insurance. About a quarter of those surveyed said they had a problem with insurance not covering care in the last year.
For example, insurance companies often deny coverage of a colonoscopy if it is performed in the same building as the gastroenterology practice, and they won’t tell you it’s denied until after the procedure is done. That’s $2,000-plus, and it’s one of the most common stories I hear.
One in six sick people (sick is defined as someone with a serious or chronic illness that requires medical care or who has spent overnight in a hospital in the last 12 months) said they were denied the care they needed because they couldn’t pay or because their insurance wouldn’t cover it.
Among people without insurance, 40 percent didn’t get the care they needed.
I don’t doubt that because for two years, Mike tried to get a colonoscopy in Savannah, Ga., but couldn’t because the gastroenterology practice demanded $2,300 up front. Because he was uninsured (and uninsurable because of a birth defect that left him vulnerable to colon cancer) and a student, he was a financial risk and so they wouldn’t bill him for the procedure. Had I known this I would have put it on my credit card, but he didn’t want anyone to worry about him, so he never said anything until it was too late. He hoped he would be able to finish college and get a job with health benefits before he got sick and needed care.
Sick people also described problems with the care they received, such as doctors and nurses not communicating with them or with each other, wrong diagnoses, inappropriate tests and wrong medications.
Seven in ten sick Americans say the influence of health insurance companies on treatment decisions is a major reason for problems with quality of care. More than half believe people getting too many unneeded tests or drugs is a major reason for quality of care problems.
Ninety percent said they believed hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are charging too much for care. A majority also said people need to take better care of themselves, and nearly three-quarters say their doctors don’t discuss broader health issues with them.
People who aren’t defined as sick don’t see the system in a much better light, probably because they know someone who is sick and have seen the horror stories first-hand.
Yet people are pretty evenly split on the Affordable Care Act. What that says to me is that the billions being spent on advertising and opinion-shaping by the Medical-Industrial Complex is paying off. What it means is that tens of thousands of Americans will continue to die prematurely because of corporate greed.
For more on the survey, visit http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/05/21/153019327/poll-what-its-like-to-be-sick-in-america?ps=sh_botprev