Archive for Friday, October 24, 2008

Health costs soar past wages

Number of uninsured rising with prices

Sharon White, left, of Lawrence, discusses health issues with Certified Medical Assistant Lixel Barnhill Thursday at Health Care Access. Health Care Access is a Lawrence agency that provides health care for low-income Douglas County residents who have no insurance; it's on track for a 30 percent increase in the number of appointments this year compared with last year.

Sharon White, left, of Lawrence, discusses health issues with Certified Medical Assistant Lixel Barnhill Thursday at Health Care Access. Health Care Access is a Lawrence agency that provides health care for low-income Douglas County residents who have no insurance; it's on track for a 30 percent increase in the number of appointments this year compared with last year.

October 24, 2008


Health care costs have risen almost five times faster than wages across the country during the new millennium.

And Kansas is no exception, according to a new report.

Annual family health insurance premiums rose 87.9 percent from 2000 to 2007. Meanwhile, median earnings increased only 17.7 percent.

"Costs are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of family budgets," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a national advocacy organization for consumers of health care.

Families USA did the first state-by-state analysis of growing health care premiums compared with earnings and released its findings Thursday. The report is based on information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services.

More than half of all bankruptcies are now due, at least in part, to problems associated with medical debt. Pollack also said premiums are providing fewer benefits despite higher deductibles and co-payments.

"People are paying more and more and receiving less and less," he said. "Workers are experiencing a triple whammy."

That whammy is:

¢ Premium costs are skyrocketing. The national average was 78.3 percent.

¢ The portion of the premiums paid by workers, 90.3 percent, is increasing even faster than the portion paid by employers, 74.6 percent.

¢ Because the employer's portion is rising substantially, they have less ability to pay higher wages.

It's a vicious circle that a small downtown Lawrence business owner knows well.

Businesses struggling

For the past 50 years, Travellers has provided health care for its full-time employees.

"There's no question health care costs have gone up in huge, huge, huge portions over the years," said Walt Houk, president and part owner.

"It's extremely difficult to provide that," he said. "It cuts into other things that you do. You couple insurance premiums with all of the tax increases that we get hit with and all of the utility upcharges. All that stuff takes away what you can do otherwise for your employees. So, it probably cuts into the amount of wage increases that they can get."

Not only are skyrocketing health care costs striking his pocketbook, but his clients' as well. A majority of his clients are 60 and older, and they have to pay for the rising costs of housing, heating and food on top of health care. So, trips and vacations tend to be the first to go.

Despite a lull in business, Houk said there is no plan to cut health care insurance for employees.

That hasn't been the case elsewhere.

No health coverage

Health Care Access, a Lawrence agency that provides health care for low-income Douglas County residents who have no insurance, is on track for a 30 percent increase in the number of appointments this year compared with last year. Through September, 1,450 patients have been seen at a total of 3,150 appointments.

"We are hearing stories of people losing their coverage or they can't afford their coverage or they are losing their jobs," said Sally Zogry, development assistant.

She said about 80 percent of their clients are employed.

"Either they are in a situation where they are not making enough to afford the benefits their employer does offer, so they might be in a more entry-level position, or their employer does not offer them benefits."

Zogry said the clinic has a four- to five-week wait for regular appointments. She also said about 750 people are enrolled in its Medication Assistance Program that helps pay for prescription drugs.

"A lot of our patients can't even afford $4," she said.

Growing concern

State leaders are familiar with the health care statistics.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the USA Families report just confirmed the worries that she hears from Kansans every day.

"Every Kansan who has health insurance is worried about rising costs in the future, and those without coverage are being priced further out of the market," she said in an e-mail.

This week, she called for the 2009 Legislature to step up and make health care reform a top priority.

If they don't, Pollack, of the national advocacy group, predicts the number of uninsured and underinsured people will continue to climb. There are 340,000 Kansans, including 58,000 children, who do not have insurance. It's the third year in a row that the number of uninsured Kansans increased.

"As health care becomes less and less affordable, people throughout the country face difficult choices trying to provide health coverage for themselves and their families," Pollack said. "A bad situation is clearly growing worse."


Hwy50 9 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, maybe the lines and waits will be longer since more people will be getting care, rather than just those who can afford it.

notajayhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus (Anonymous) says: "Despite the claims to the contrary, countries with single-payer health insurance provide more and better healthcare to more people for less money. It's just that simple."Well, boohoozo is just that simple. I have asked the clown on occasions that must now number in the hundreds to back up that specious claim, even to say what objective measure he uses for 'better' healthcare. He has never given an answer (except for purely subjective, ideological opinion pieces). He can't.****Amen, Godot. When are people going to figure out that physicians have a vested interest in a nationalized, government guarantee for their fees? I bet there's an organization of auto body repair shops that lobbied for mandatory car insurance, and there's probably a home repair and remodeling association that would love to see mandatory universal homeowners' insurance.

notajayhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

merrill (Anonymous) says: "This is not what the people want."Gee, as usual merrill's wrong. Imagine that.While surveys show people are in favor of the concept of nationalized healthcare, when you hit them with the specifics, like longer waits and restricted choices of doctors (not to mention the enormous cost), the support evaporates. The overwhelming majority of people who have private insurance are satisfied with their coverage - can Medicaid say that? - and private insurance companies typically pay out less for the same procedures as government funded payers do.Funny how there are so many morons in this country who rant and rave about the atrocious care the VA provides and somehow believe that the government will give you better care than they give our soldiers.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 6 months ago

Health Care Costs Soar Past Wages....How true, and I am sick of it..

Godot 9 years, 6 months ago

Follow the money. What organization spends millions of dollars in advertising to demand that everyone to have health insurance? The American Medical Association.When will the Merrills of the world ever realize that the doctors, hospitals and drug companies are the ones who are creating this health care crisis with their expectation that they deserve to be uber-wealthy, that they deserve luxurious office buildings and mansions? We should not give the medical community an open checkbook (aka universal health care) until they show that they can be responsible and do everything they can to reduce the costs of their services.

staff04 9 years, 6 months ago

merrill, I'm fairly liberal, have spent 5 years in Washington working on healthcare policy, and I want a hybrid system where traditional health insurance companies' beneficiaries are included in the national plan's pool. I DO want a national system like that outlined in HR 676 in place as an option for the health care consumer, but it should not be the only choice. Conyers' bill makes it illegal for health insurance companies to compete with the national system. That's the biggest reason that it will never ever ever ever become law. It isn't about being in the pockets of insurance companies, it is about choice.Who are you to say that I cannot throw my money away on a more costly and less effective insurance plan if I want to?

KU_cynic 9 years, 6 months ago

For those with employer-provided or supplemented health insurance - - - health benefits are a component of compensation! Hence, it is no mystery that wages are flat while health care costs rise -- because increased benefits value coupled with somewhat flat wages still mean increased compensation to employees (and increased costs to employers).For those with insurance, health care has improved in quality, life expectancy has increased, and mortality rates associated with many diseases have dropped. None of this comes cheap -- or free.Would Americans really want to freeze health care at 1990-era treatments and costs in exchange for higher wages? I doubt it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

The information is readily available, nota. Your demand to have it spoonfed to you does not constitute a valid or reasoned argument.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

I think your suggestion has a bit of merit, staff04. The one weakness I see is that insurance companies would be at a severe competitive disadvantage, given all the waste and excessive profits built into their premium structure. They'd never agree to any such system.

Cait McKnelly 9 years, 6 months ago

Probably the same amount as the millions and millions that McCain is spending to attack Obama to try and keep him from getting the Presidency. A better question is how much free medical care could have been provided by the billions and billions that are being spent on the war in Iraq?

Stephen Roberts 9 years, 6 months ago

Merrill maybe one day you should quit complaining and run for office?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

Despite the claims to the contrary, countries with single-payer health insurance provide more and better healthcare to more people for less money. It's just that simple.

Godot 9 years, 6 months ago

I wonder how much free medical care could have been provided by the millions and millions that are being spent to buy the presidency for Obama?

akt2 9 years, 6 months ago

Just basic healthcare would be a good start. People that don't have insurance can't afford to go to the doctor. Case in point, my friend is uninsured. After being sick for a week he went to doctor. Lyme Disease. $700 for an office visit and blood work. All for the sake of a $10 prescription. I work in healthcare. I watch the welfare recipients come to the ER 7 and 8 times a month for their little aches and pains, Medicaid card in hand. It is so sad that working people can not afford healthcare.

Confrontation 9 years, 6 months ago

Things would only get worse if McSame were elected. Fewer employers would provide health insurance, and the pathetic tax credit of McSame's wouldn't help anyone.

monkeyhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

A source that I am sure some embrace:"A law that makes the sickness worse"Nancy Welch explains the consequences of a Massachusetts law that makes health insurance mandatory for all residents of the state.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 6 months ago

When will politicians ever understand they are working for us not their careers...Any health insurance plan that includes insurance companies indicates the insurance companies are still in the drivers seat. This is not what the people want. It is what the politicians want.Thus far insurance companies have not contained the cost of health insurance or healthcare. The USA is spending nearly 3 times as much as other industrialized nations yet not receiving any better healthcare.1500 different insurance companies will not do anything to reduce mountains and mountains of paper that require too much staffing. 1500 different policies is too many.HR 676 National Health Insurance How Would It Help?HR 676 = one insurance company = efficiency = reduced costHR 676 = patients choice across the board = removing the insurance companies from healthcare decisions = improved healthcare across the board.HR 676 = removing the health insurance industry from the special interests = removing health insurance dollars from campaigns,obscene salaries and golden parachutesHR 676 = no more bankruptcies due to insufficient health insurance coverage = no one losing homes HR 676 establishes an American-styled national health insurance program. The bill would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care program that uses the already existing Medicare program by expanding and improving it to all U.S. residents, and all residents living in U.S. territories.The goal of the HR 676 legislation is to ensure that all Americans, guaranteed by law, will have access to the highest quality and cost effective health care services regardless of ones employment, income, or health care status. With over 45-75 million uninsured Americans, and another 50 million who are under insured, it is time to change our inefficient and costly fragmented health care system to HR 676. Physicians For A National Health Program reports that under a HR 676 Medicare For All plan, we could save over $286 billion dollars a year in total health care costs. HR 676 would move citizens away from our present system where annual family premiums have increased upwards to $12,068 this year.*HR 676 = Medicare for All would allow the United States to reduce its almost $2 trillion health care expenditure per year while covering all citizens. HR 676 = Every person living in the United States and the U.S. Territories would receive a United States National Health Insurance Card and identification number once enrolled . No co-pays or deductibles are permissible under this act.Physicians for National Health Insurance HR676

Richard Heckler 9 years, 6 months ago

Two great assets to HR 676:1. Everyone will receive the same quality healthcare no matter if rich,middleclass or low income. 2. HR 676 will effectively remove medical insurance coverage from the list of special interest campaign contributors. YES!Single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a public agency organizes health financing.Should anyone be forced to live without medical care? No! Should anyone and their families be forced to live without healthcare due to a lay off? No! So many countries providing healthcare to their citizens have taken jobs away from the USA by the millions. Pakistan and India are receiving white collar USA jobs as we speakWhy support the health care system that discriminates in so many ways?Shouldn't all receive the same medical coverage no matter what? Absolutely! Instead of coverage based on what type of policy one can afford... this stinks.Should employers be forced to pay for medical coverage? No!Should blue and white collar workers who became victims of outsourcing be forced to live without medical coverage? No! soldiers come home to no healthcare for them and their families? No!Should reservists who lost jobs with medical care be forced to live without medical care? No!Should those with jobs yet cannot afford healthcare be forced to live without medical care? No! doctors,hospitals,clinics and emergency rooms be forced to absorb the cost of those without medical care yet do? No! These costs are likely being passed on to those to have this fair? No! Should healthCare be equal to a can of spinch on a retail shelf? No way jose'!National Health Insurance makes dollars and sense.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 6 months ago

I agree to an extent, Liberty One, but our "system" systematically excludes up to 1/3 of the population from access to much or all of the equipment you describe. I don't see how any such system can be described as "better" than one that provides treatment for all, especially when that treatment is, on average, 98% as good as what is available here.

MaryKatesPillStash 9 years, 6 months ago

Or maybe the $150,000 spent on Palin's wardrobe? Including the campaign money she spent on her baby?Or the money she spent carting her family around to events they were not invited to?

Ryan Neuhofel 9 years, 6 months ago

The notion that we have currently have a "free-market health care system" and that it is the cause of the current mess is a fallacy. I will agree that insurance companies have "taken advantage" of poor public policy to make billions while providing a poor product. Most Americans are forced to accept their employer's health insurance choices (due to the tax break provided to employers). This discourages shopping for the best and most appropriate insurance coverage. Knowing that customer satisfaction has little to due with their income, insurance companies don't give two-cents about treating their "customers" fairly. In fact, our entire perception that health care needs to be "purchased" by third-parties (insurance companies or government entities) is at the heart of this problem. I would argue that we are mostly "over-insured". Don't get me wrong, we do need health insurance for unexpected or catastrophic events (injuries, cancer, etc). However, pre-paying a middle-man to administer our money (mostly deny!) for routine (primary, prevention, maintenance) medical care is stupid. Each time you see your doctor (using the traditional insurance system), half of your money is going to cover overhead costs of the doctor and insurance company. Third-parties also hide the true cost of goods (Rx, etc) and services (via co-pays) in higher premiums. Imagine if your home insurance was provided through your employer and covered cleaning services and re-painting your walls . . . . What type of service do you think you would receive?

Confrontation 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm not surprised that ese wants boobs and a bigger penis.

Godot 9 years, 6 months ago

Why would the liberals donate more than $1,000,000,000 to put Obama in the Whitehouse? Why would they not direct this money through charity for the health care and housing needs of those who earn under $250,000 per year? Was the purpose to gain the power to force others to give to the "needy," rather than give that billion dollars directly to the "needy" themselves?Liberals make their living by being the gatekeepers, the conduits, the bag men, between government and "the needy." They are the hedge fund managers of food stamps. They have to take their 50% off the top before the tax dollars get to the people who need the money the most.

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