Medical Bankruptcy: The New American Epidemic
They say that when you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything — but in the era of rising healthcare costs and decreasing insurance coverage, what once might have been just a tired cliché is now a terrifying reality for far too many Americans. And the sad fact is that the much-publicized healthcare crisis in the United States has hit Indiana and the surrounding region particularly hard.
Specifically, of over 400 Congressional districts recently studied to ascertain the state of residents’ physical, psychological, and emotional well-being, it was found that the district encompassing Muncie consistently ranked near the bottom across all domains, from physical and emotional health to positive health behaviors and healthcare access.
These are alarming findings because, as Indiana struggles with the state of healthcare in the region, the number of bankruptcies attributed to medical costs continues to surge across the United States. Now more than ever, Americans are finding themselves uninsured or underinsured, and as the cost of medical care continues to skyrocket, that means that many families in the United States are just one health crisis away from financial ruin. Unfortunately, the people of Indiana and the American heartland find themselves particularly at risk.
Power (Not) to the People
Amid all the talk in recent years about healthcare as a universal human right and despite the litany of promises made by pundits and politicians from coast-to-coast, access to reliable, affordable healthcare has perhaps never been further beyond the reach of many Americans than it is today.
The reason for this is simple: amid a rising tide of privatization and deregulation, the power is no longer in the hands of the voters. It rests with the lobbyists, the insurance providers, and the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, those who have the authority and ability to set their own rates, determine and regulate their own practices, and, in essence, define the rules of the game in the way that will most quickly line their pockets and flood their coffers.
As more and more hard-working middle and working-class Americans find themselves at the mercy of big money — the bought and paid for politicians and the lobbyists and corporations who control them — they find themselves making increasingly desperate choices, simply to remain afloat. The news abounds with heartbreaking stories of elderly people forced to choose between medication and food. More than a few people have lost their lives simply because they could not afford their epinephrine, organ anti-rejection medications, or insulin required for otherwise incredibly-treatable diabetes. Even one life lost due to the inability to afford medical care in the wealthiest nation in the world is an atrocity. And more than one such death is an abomination.
On Shaky Ground
Of course, circumstances do not have to become so dire for them to be unacceptable in the United States. Struggling families can find themselves making risky financial decisions just to access the medication and healthcare their loved ones need. Parents may drain their retirement accounts to cover the often astronomical costs of the specialized therapy autistic children will likely need across their lifespan. Elderly patients insufficiently covered even by Medicare may consign themselves to potentially dangerous financial lenders, especially if they do not do enough research around legitimate title loan companies, just to secure the medication they need from month-to-month. New moms may risk painful and potentially life-threatening skin infections or other complications because the costs of even a post-pregnancy tummy tuck by a certified plastic surgeon are not covered by many insurance policies.
What Is to Be Done?
Sadly, the problems are many, but the answers are few. As Washington insiders continue to argue and accuse, Americans subsist in their struggle. But that by no means suggests that they are powerless. In addition to asserting their political voice at the local, state, and national levels, there is action that can be taken to help the average American take charge of their health. For those of us who live in the American heartland, not only is the state of both health and healthcare access abysmal, so are the health behaviors of most citizens.
Fortunately, the field of preventative health is proving to be a vital resource, with nurses playing a particularly important role in supporting community health from physical activity, nutrition, preventative screening, and access to free and low-cost health services. These resources can be invaluable not only for optimizing one’s quality of life, but in preventing disease and premature death in vulnerable populations.
For the millions of Americans who are inadequately insured, many of whom live right here in Indiana or surrounding midwestern states, the best way to get healthy is to be proactive in staying healthy. Likewise, the best way to stay financially strong is to learn the healthful behaviors that will keep you physically strong. In other words, until the much-needed change comes to the healthcare industry in America, it may well be that an ounce of prevention, truly is worth more than a pound of cure.