Our Children Choke on the “Bitter Pill”

The news about public health rarely seems to be good. If we are to believe what the media tells us about ourselves, we are getting fatter, sicker, and dumber all the time. We need more pills, more surgeries, more therapists, and more interventions. Our children will suffer the most in this zero sum game and the greatest crises to face them is a simple one: access to affordable health care. Just about every American lives under the same dark cloud: if one of us gets hurt or sick, our family will be devastated.

The March 4, 2013 issue of Time Magazine featured one of the best pieces of journalism I have seen in years. In “Bitter Pill” Steven Brill spent an unbelievable amount of time and energy combing every corner of America’s medical system to understand why our healthcare costs are so incredibly high compared to the rest of the world. Calling attention to the woefully ambiguous “chargemaster” price lists, the profits turned by non-profit hospitals claiming to take a loss on Medicare patience while adding shiny new wings to their facilities, and the disgusting amount of “over doctoring” leading to unnecessary charges on medical bills has people talking about our healthcare problem. Mr. Brill’s article was meticulous and crisp and covered just about ever imaginable detail of our complex health care system and the people affected by it. However, I saw one glaring omission in Mr. Brill’s article: he never talked about the impact of all of this on our children. They are always the ones who feel the brunt of the selfish behavior of adults.

As I scour the internet looking for statistics and research, I keep coming up short. While there is a plethora of data available about general health care costs in the US, I am having a hard time finding information specific to children’s health. The data that is there, however, is staggering and disheartening. Although our annual costs in health care spending are rising at an exorbitant rate compared to other developed nations, our life expectancy rate and infant mortality rate are among the worst.

Our health care system is incredibly intricate yet completely flimsy. In comparison to the rest of the world, America’s health care system leaves a lot to be desired. Our industrialized allies, Germany, have one of the oldest government established health coverage systems in the world and every German citizen has access to basic health coverage regardless of risk or conditions. In Japan drugs and services have set prices that are negotiated between the government and the industry. No chargemaster needed because every citizen knows exactly what he or she will be paying for every drug or service offered. We can still have a system in which privatized care is the primary means by which medical services are delivered while implementing courageous overhauls that simplify, streamline, and prevent unethical behaviors. We can and we must.

American families are drowning in medical debt for issues large and small. Even with insurance, families are being crushed under the weight of massive and confusing medical bills. My husband and I were once charged $400 for “moderately difficult decision-making” after a late night visit to the ER for my his stomach pains that turned out to be digestive issues. All of us are functioning in a paradoxical system that is blazing on the cutting-edge of research and technology while simultaneously entrenched in archaic bureaucracy and declining customer service. Not only are we functioning in this system, we are paying for it at a very high premium. There is something seriously wrong here.

While nobody seems to be talking about how children are impacted by this perverse system to which we have all become a part; it is all that I can think about. I know that there are children out there not getting the medical care that they need because their family cannot afford to pay for it on their ownand they also makes too much money to get any sort of assistance. I know that there are mothers not getting essential prenatal care and lactation counseling from a nurse or midwife for the same reason. Although there aren’t any statistics giving us concrete links between our health care system and the lack of services and care our children need but aren’t getting, I know that the ties are there. I also know that the debt and stress brought on by completely unmanageable costs of medical services is putting an emotional weight on families that is causing them to fracture.

Maybe we don’t need statistics on these things to know that they are true because we all know stories of people in our lives who have been through the American medical wringer. While I would like to see social and financial research that helps us better understand how children are affected by all of this, I know that we are empowered to start making some changes now. The first step is telling the stories of the children in the mix of this mess. They are who will suffer the most and they are also the emotional catalyst society needs to step up and make necessary changes.  I have a great deal of appreciation for Mr. Brill’s meticulous research, factual yet personal writing, and sensible proposals for change. Next time, however, I challenge him to consider remembering to tell the story of the children. They cannot tell their stories on their own.

As I continue my work as an influencer of public policy in Colorado, I will have health care on my agenda even though my role is education. A healthy child is a ready and able learner and I can do my part to tell their stories and influence policy that keeps children and families healthy. Maybe if people working in education and policy like me along with the good people working in the health care industry can work together with distinguished journalists such as Steven Brill, we can begin to tell the story of health care’s impact on our children and start a wave of change that will transform how we care for each other during our darkest times.

It is time to put health care back into the hands of the people, one story at a time.


~ by vegucationmama on March 16, 2013.

3 Responses to “Our Children Choke on the “Bitter Pill””

  1. Hello RF,
    I truly enjoyed reading your post. The issue of health care in our nation has become a source of propaganda for both the politicians and media. Even with all the money we pay for insurance premiums I feel that we are still left in quandary when we are faced with having to visit an emergency room. The problem seems to be growing worst, now with so many unemployed and who have been left without insurance, the problem has become even greater. Even so,
    while we are not where we want to be as a nation concerning our health care system, we are still far more advance than many other nations. And while our health system can use some adjusting we do have one of the best in the world. In many countries for example Canada, they don’t have the luxury of receiving the kind of care we have, they have to wait months for simple procedures, for example a cardiac catheterization, or a simple knee replacement. In addition many of our cities across America have free walk in clinics, many of which even accept illegal undocument immigrants and document migrants many of whom can’t afford insurance. Yes, I agree with you we as a nation not only need to, but will be forced to reform our health care system, and continue advocating for better regulatory laws that need to enforce, and regulate hospitals billing practices and stop them from charging
    patients exhorbatant and ridiculous prices, for example $200 for 2 tylenol pills, and other unnecessary added items. I would also like to add that many states also offer free health insurance for children under 18, such as CHIP. Many of our children run unnecesarry health risks today because parents do not know how to gain access to the resources that are available to them. Which is the reason I make it my business to help those parents I work with to ascertain that they are aware of the resources there are. Keep up the good work, yes, we are the voice crying out in the wilderness! Thanks for your post.

    Best Regards,

  2. two thoughts – one is dental care – which can become such a serious health issue if problems are left untreated and needs to be included in any “health care” talks. The second is tax rates – we Americans hate taxes – in your research did you come across any statistics showing how much the health care in Germany costs and what their income tax rate is? It all comes at a price; and I do believe it is a price worth paying; but unfortunately it is those who pay little or no taxes (and therefore seem to have less of a voice) who stand to benefit the most…

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