Shame on Wall Street, But Shame on Healthcare Leaders Too

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , May 17, 2010

Simply, as employee contributions to healthcare insurance doubled from 1999 to 2008 (the total cost for family coverage averaged $12,680 by 2008, a 5% increase over 2007), employers naturally tried to keep their businesses going. As any CFO will tell you, that meant either laying off staff, cutting benefits, or keeping wages flat. Sadly, if wages remain stagnant, which they did, but everything else goes up—including healthcare costs—things get lopsided.

In some instances, rather than cut benefits, some employers tried to pass along the costs to their already financially strained employees, bringing high-deductible health plans into vogue. A Kaiser survey reports annual deductibles jumped an average of 29%, to $1,344, for those with family coverage in 2008.

It's not news that healthcare is expensive, or that it's also a business. But I do marvel that when the financial woes brought on by unscrupulous finance industry activities hit, many hospitals started seeing even more patients come to them without insurance or the ability to pay. Suddenly, providers started speaking up. A collective cry arose from hospitals nationwide, saying, "We need help. The finance industry has messed up and now even more folks can't pay us. We'll go bankrupt."

Yep, after a bit of squawking, the healthcare industry got its version of a bailout in the form of the Affordable Care Act—at least to some degree. Unfortunately, that law doesn't go far enough and really protect your patients from losing their homes any more than the finance industry bailout helped anyone other than the companies that got us in this mess to begin with. People will still need to choose between paying their high deductibles or their mortgage, and guess what; they're going to pick their mortgage every time.

The only way that's ever going to change is if healthcare providers begin to support the patients and work with (or perhaps in some instances against) the health insurance companies to craft truly reasonably-priced coverage. Still, most healthcare providers are too busy these days trying to clean up the financial mess left behind by the finance industry to put any time into that effort. So, I suspect that it's more than likely that we'll see a repeat of this foreclosure cycle for many years to come. Perhaps that thought will get you as ticked off as it does me.

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Karen Minich-Pourshadi is a Senior Editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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