Joseph Q. Jarvis: Business as usual in health care is killing Americans

With very few exceptions, every American family is health insecure.

According to a study recently conducted by the newly announced health reform group Common Sense Health Care for Utah, $28 billion will be spent on health care in Utah this year.

Health care spending in Utah is growing fast, doubling every decade, a rate faster than that of all but one other state. The Utah Foundation has for years consistently found that Utahns rate health care costs at the top of their list of concerns. In 2020, the Utah Foundation noted that during the decade from 2008 to 2018, health insurance premiums rose 50% and deductibles for health insurance rose 74%, causing Utahns to have the eight highest out of pocket costs for health care in the nation.

On average, every Utahn will spend $2,800 annually out of pocket for health care, and that’s after paying (along with all Americans) the world’s highest taxes for health care. Unlike the rest of the developed world, however, only in America will people go without health care because they cannot afford it. In 2018, an estimated 429,000 Utahns were unable to get needed health care because they could not pay the out-of-pocket costs.

My own recent health care experience helps to illustrate why Americans are increasingly priced out of needed care. A few months ago, I began to have right-sided pain that reminded me of how it felt when I passed a kidney stone about a decade ago. I notified my urologist, who arranged for me to have a CT scan.

As it turned out, the pain I was experiencing was not due to another stone. Rather, I had developed a very large cyst on my right kidney. The cyst, which was about the size of my liver, was impinging on nearby anatomic structures and causing pain and obstruction of blood flow. My urologist and I concluded that the cyst had to be removed.

I was scheduled for same-day surgery at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center. The 90-minute surgery went well, and I was released to go home after about four hours in the recovery room. I removed my own surgical drain a few days later. I have enjoyed a satisfactory return to health and no longer have the pain and other discomfort associated with the cyst.

Just recently, I have begun receiving notifications of the billing associated with my surgery. I have Medicare with a supplemental insurance plan, so I receive claims information from both sources of payment. The supplemental insurance plan recently notified me that for the several hours of relatively uncomplicated surgical care rendered at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, Medicare was billed $30,902.64. Apparently, that bill was paid without question.

Lest anyone consider my experience to be an isolated case, a friend recently told me about his own uncomplicated hospitalization (his was overnight) for which the hospital received more than $55,000 from Medicare.

Let’s face it, the prices for hospital care in the United States are ridiculously high. Hospitals set these prices without any attempt to base them on what providing needed care really costs. These prices are invented out of whole cloth and are generating windfall profits at the expense of American patients and their families. There is no justification for pricing middle-class Americans out of needed health care after they pay the world’s highest taxes for that very care.

With very few exceptions, every American family is health insecure, meaning their next major health problem could bankrupt them, or they could simply be priced out of the care they need. Meanwhile, our hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers are making enormous profits. Business as usual in American health care is killing Americans. It is time for real and sustainable reform.

Joseph Jarvis

Joseph Q. Jarvis, M.D., Salt Lake City, is a public health physician and the author of two books about U.S. health system reform: “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care,” and, “For the Hurt of My People: Original Conservatism and Better, Simpler Health Care.”