December 4th, 2008
03:18 PM ET

Extreme Challenges: The health of the economy, the health of all Americans

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/HEALTH/01/15/ep.emergency.room/art.emergency.cnn.jpg]
Program Note: Take a sneak peak at the AC360 Special "Extreme Challenges: President Obama" airing at 11 tonight ET. Below, a note from Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

There is no doubt health care will be an extreme challenge, especially with the economy in the tank. But a bigger challenge may be explaining how the economy and health care reforms are truly linked. After all, we have the most expensive health system in the world, and Americans spend more on health care than housing or food. Here is a number to ponder: the United States spends nearly 500 billion more than peer nations on health care, and we don’t get nearly enough for it.

As a doctor and a parent, I can’t believe we have let ourselves get to this point. Too many people are uninsured, and even more have insurance that is simply inadequate. According to the American Cancer Society, 100,000 Americans will end up in bankruptcy because of a cancer diagnosis. Can you believe that? You are diagnosed with the most devastating medical illness of your lifetime only to follow it up with the most devastating financial illness you have suffered. Yes, the economy and health care are truly linked.

Last month, nearly half of all Americans surveyed reported skipping pills, postponing or canceling medical appointments and generally cutting back on medical care simply due to cost. Roughly, 22,000 people die each year due to lack of coverage. For sake of reference, the number of people who die annually from homicide in the country is around 17,000. It would seem being uninsured is a different sort of homicide.

The next administration will be faced with extreme challenges, and health care reform has to be front and center. As you may infer, you can’t really fix the economy without addressing health care. Still, this reporter is optimistic we will see some changes over the next few years. Heck, they might even deal with stem cells and obesity to boot.

Filed under: Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Economy • Health Care • Raw Politics
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Anne from Canada

    Canadians have had Medicare (free health care for all our citizens) for years. Yes, we pay for it in our taxes but when a major health problem arises patients do not worry about the costs. Just worring about being sick is enough. We don't end up with thousand of dollas of debt nor do we have to declare bankruptcy. Medicare provides preventative health care so our country is healthier and many health problems are caught early before they become serious. I have always got the impression that Americans with money do not care that 46 million (or more) Americans cannot afford health care. I find this deplorable.

    December 5, 2008 at 6:17 am |
  2. Linda

    Yes, the next administration has a tough road to steer down regarding health care. Can President Elect Obama deliver on the promise? It is sad to know that some people in the United States feel that the Government has no place in running our health care. You can identify the people that do not have a pre-existing condition which will disqualify them from getting medical insurance on their own. Since the majority of businesses employing the majority of employees, are small businesses, health care is a benefit the small business owners cannot afford to offer their employees. Therefore, this leaves working folks unable to acquire the medical insurance they need and want to get. What are you to do? Most working people do not want to be uninsured, they just can’t afford it or the insurance company will not insure them. We do need the help of the government to assist with this very unbelievable scenario. We have excellent health care providers, medicines, and medical institutions but the vast majority of Americans does not have access to this care. There is something wrong with our way of thinking and I know our next President will work diligently to change our business practices when it comes to health care!! Look at Medicare, you have these older citizens whom are provided with medical insurance and there is no need to show insurability. Nine times out of ten, when you are 65 you have some sort of medical condition. However, these big insurance companies are tripping over their feet to have these senior sign up for their medical plans. The Government pays the premium and the senior is covered. Why does this work when an individual who can afford a plan but has a pre-existing condition and the insurance company won’t touch the opportunity to insure them with a 10 foot pole. Bottom line, making money is more important than saving lives. I think we can go on and on about this issue and still be perplexed with the rational in how our medical systems work. Let’s be selective in who we help. This is America?

    December 5, 2008 at 6:12 am |
  3. KSuzanne

    What challenges our new President faces! We as a nation must pray for him and for ourselves that we recover from this mess that fiscally conservative power has left us!

    KSuzanne from San Leandro, CA

    December 5, 2008 at 5:31 am |
  4. Jordan Levin

    All of the reports about the "cost of healthcare" are so biased and/or nieve. Obama and other officials should stay out of the process because they don't understand the real causes of the problem, Insurance Companies. I know i could fix the entire system real fast. Unfortunitly, Nobody asks the people working in the healthcare industry, the doctors. Perhaps if "for-profit" insurance companies were forced into "non-profit" status then insurance premiums would drop. As proof of my point, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield paid New York State $2 billion to change from non-profit to for-profit. The next year they doubled there premiums. Nice Profit Right. By the way, when the premiums go up, the amount paid to the doctors does not. that goes for copays too; you may pay more, but the insurance company pays less. Only people in the industry should make the reform pitches. And stop talking about electronic medical records. They don't reduce the cost of healthcare, in fact, they cost the doctors a lot of money and for their trouble some insurers reduce payments, or audit more; case in point Anthem Blue Cross of Ohio. Its funny how you commentators think you know about the issue from reading politically motivated reports and listening to biased speaches by the misinformed and uninvolved (Or idiot movie makers, Michael Moore), If you want to know more about the real problems ask you doctors and open the explanation of benefits sent by your insurance company. See how little they pay your doctor, it might make you wonder where your $5,000 – $10,000 yearly premium is going, exacly where the money from AIG and Llehman Borthers went, into the pokets of the CEO and other theiving directors.

    December 5, 2008 at 12:13 am |
  5. ann morrisssey

    We've had two yrs. and million's spent while Obama, Hillairy & McCain campaigned while doing nothiing about this financial collapse. Are there any leaders out there..they have destroyed the responsible people with 401k', and Ira's and ruined our future, our kids or the government will have to support us now. Congress is apalling, Busch is non-functional, Obama is sitting there doing nothing and we are all very scared about the market. Bail out everybody and give us our economy back...please??!!!!

    December 5, 2008 at 12:05 am |
  6. Dianne

    Larry Robinson from Belton,Tx. Larry doctors make more than a little money. They make a lot of money. I know a few doctors in Houston, Tx and some at Scott and White in Temple, TX. The Veteran's Administration pay doctors very too. They pretty much keep bankers hours.

    December 4, 2008 at 11:55 pm |
  7. AM Deist

    Many will have you believe that if we nationalize health care it will cost much more than it does now. The only problem with that argument is that most of the countries in the western world that have national healthcare pay less per capita than our current system. We don't need national health insurance! We need national health care, just like the military and the congress have. Many people will tell you that military healthcare is substandard to our civilian system. As a 20 year veteran and user of that system, I would argue otherwise. For every provider in the military without proper credentials, there are probably 1,000 or more in the civilian community. We need to get insurance companies and lawyers out of our health care system, and we can reduce costs substantially. We also need to get the profit motive out of the system. I would much rather see a physician who went to medical school because he or she believed in the hypocratic oath than to see one who became a doctor so they could get rich!

    December 4, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Larry Robinson from Belton Texas

    I was a Licensed Respiratory Therapist at the TX Med Center in Houston starting in 1979. I witnessed changes in the early 80s that points at today. Anytime business controls the actual health and care of America, it will not work. Compassion and truth are in the glossary of US economics, but I didn't see them anywhere near bedsides. Hospitals make money. Drs make money (a little). Medical suppliers are filthy rich. But where is the patient? In 1992 I quit– literally walked away one day–and started painting houses when I was repeatedly asked to cut back on care of neonates. Best step of my life. Its time we redirect dollars so people get their due, not so the rich get richer.

    December 4, 2008 at 7:20 pm |
  9. Jennifer

    I totally agree with this! As being a person who has been uninsured for a couple years, I think the entire health care issue is crazy! My employer does not offer insurance benefits, my income is to high to qualify for state assistance and my pre-existing condition would make premiums outragiously high. While attending a support group meeting awhile back, I was informed that I should do what is known as a common practice. Wait until I am to sick to do much of anything, go to the hospital and get all the tests done, get my treatment and file bankruptcy. I don't feel as if I can do that, so instead I try to do as much natural remedies as possible. I have been able to manage, but. . . I feel for those who aren't able to fight. I feel for those who have to pay the way for us because of a little deer tick or any other disease/illness that makes us go uninsured. And I feel for those who don't have the strength to stand up to their doctors when they are told (like I was) that its time to grow up and get a real job so they can be insured!

    December 4, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  10. Melissa, Los Angeles

    The problem is this country – especially doctors – have allowed the insurance industry to take control of healthcare and turned it into a business. If someone would have the nerve to truly address the insurance industry for the crooks that they are, maybe our system will get better. It's sad to know that none of us can afford to get sick in this country much less pay for regular checkups to prevent a future costlier health issue.

    December 4, 2008 at 5:07 pm |
  11. Janette Garside

    We have literaly spent decades giving away American skilled jobs, from making cardboard boxes to our top scientific equipment. We need skilled workers to continue for generations to come. Enough of the College geeks that can-not even make a boy scout fire. Tax the imports, bring that back. Spend more time on small business less on Banks.... I know at 53 my job in the Auto Industry has dissolved, how wil I find a job that is meaninful at this age... Less on Wall Street and Banks more on jobs and small busines....I never did shop or like Wal-Mart. I miss Ed's variety store....Or Unique gifts..... Or Sally's 5 and 10.

    December 4, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  12. Sherry - alliance4health

    Health care is a critical part of our National Infrastructure and investments in it are just as important as rebuilding roads and schools.

    Although many people think technology and consumer empowerment will be the savior It will be key to emphasize low tech solutions like primary care, medical homes and patient centered care with new models of care delivery like tele-health, PA's and NP's providing more basic care to free up (and increase the compensation) of the declining number of Family Practice Doctors for complex and chronic conditions.

    Europe has higher quality outcomes for 1/2 the cost and they don't use technology to accomplish it nor are their consumers particularly empowered but heir administrative overhead is far less but access to some high tech and new drugs are limited without any impact on outcomes. Unlike England many EU countries like France do it without socialized medicine but everyone is covered. Holland even uses doc's that visit you at home after hours as that is more cost effective then a trip to an ER.

    December 4, 2008 at 4:20 pm |