Monday, January 28, 2008
Eyeing the State of the Union
By Caleb Hellerman
Senior Medical Producer

Last summer, when he was defending his veto of expanded federal health insurance for children, President Bush said something interesting. Sounding exasperated, he said critics were wrong to say that access to health care is a big problem. "People have access to health care in America. After all, just go to an emergency room."

It was awkward at best, jaw-dropping at worst. But in fairness, most people I know have the same general sense: that as much as we gripe about medical bills or the cost of insurance, if something were to go wrong - really wrong - someone will be there to take care of us.

But for me, the past few months have been eye-opening. We've been digging into the issue of health care, for a documentary that airs Thursday night (Broken Government: Health Care - Critical Condition, which airs Thursday at 11 p.m. ET, after the Democrats' debate). We found cancer patients dying because they couldn't afford radiation treatment and well-off, well-insured couples who went bankrupt after medical emergencies.

It's true that many people like their doctor, even the health care system in general. A CNN poll in November found 79 percent are happy with the health care they receive, and 69 percent are satisfied with their insurance coverage. And yet in that very same poll, 62 percent said they believe the system needs a great deal of reform. Clearly, something is wrong.

I think that people sense that the safety net is getting smaller. In just the past eight years, thousands of companies have dropped health insurance for their workers, and companies who still offer it are asking workers to pay more. On the private market, the cost of insurance is frightening -- an average of $12,106 per year for a family of four, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And for too many, the emergency room is the only answer. A Harvard study this month found that ER wait times got 40 percent longer between 1997 and 2004, and the lead researcher blamed "Americans' poor access to primary and preventive care which could address medical issues before they become emergencies."

President Bush didn't use that emergency room line more than once, as far as I can tell. Someone may have told him it just didn't sound right. Tonight is the State of the Union address, when the president lists what he hopes to accomplish this year. Members of Congress and the assembled guests either leap up to clap, or sit on their hands, depending what they think of each suggestion. I'm eager to see what health care issues come up - and whether there's anything which gets a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.

What do you think needs to be done to improve health care in the United States?

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Our health care system is not a system for delivering health care. It is a machine for making money for certain group of people: the insurance companies, the drug companies and the doctors.

The last time someone tried to change it, the health care industry used the power of advertisement to stop President Clinton from making any change. The only way to fix it is when the companies paying for the bills band together to force a change. When the CEOs of these companies see that their companies are being bankrupted by it, maybe there will be change.

Follow the MONEY and you will understand why nothing will change.
Caleb, you are SPOT ON!!

Our politicians have NOT A CLUE what it's like in the real world... and what it's like to be us.

They'll never sit in and ER for 10 hours like we have had to do.

I won't mention names, but I did have a lawmaker tell me once that "you could always go to the ER, you'll never be turned away".

That was a lot of help.
The problem is caused by the fact that we graduate 4x as many lawyers as we do doctors in this country. So we have to import doctors who may not be as qualified and still have a shortage. Just wait until the baby boomer doctors all get old and sick at the same time.
Dr. Gupta-

Regarding your comment that if we were to really need help someone would be there to take care of us, I would like to call BS on that...

My question is at what cost?

Sure, someone would be there to take care of us should we need help in an emergency, but it is SHAMEFUL to think that if you're uninsured as many many Americans are it might cost you your home, or put you so far in debt you might never recover financially. Even if you are insured, there is no garentee that we'll be covered.

We need a massive MASSIVE overhaul to this system.
One thing that interests me is the lack of communication between governmental agencies involved in health care. For instance, a disabled adult who has applied for SSI (disability and medicare), can not be considered for medicaid until the SSI is resolved. In either case they will be covered but neither will pay during the process. Two years and counting so far in the SSI process.
Thank you Caleb. Many have been in this crisis for a long time-26 years for myself. I have learned to stay healthy by nutrition and rest, prayer and a little exercise and rarely take medications. My hope is that we will educate all of our fellow Americans on the amazing benefits of eating healthy, avoiding excesses and additives, exercising and practicing goodwill towards others.
National healthcare is good and works for some country but I am sure it fits in the US. The countries in Europe have very strict immigration law and it is very difficult to become a citizen, and their birth rate is negative. The US has high birth rate, illegal immigration, many people do not want to work, I am sure the National Healthcare in the US will be abused. Conclusion is National Healthcare is good but we cannot afford it in the US unless we can fix other problems first!
I would guess that many uninsured people are uninsured not just because of cost, but because pre-existing conditions prevent them from being accepted. Everyone focuses on employer provided healthcare, and that's great, if you have a job. What if you don't work, can't work, or work for a small co. that can't pay for healthcare? How are the Republicans going to fix those situations? It's easy to just say let's make the employers pay, but how about the unemployed?
Your CNN health care survey reported a high satisfaction level for USA citizens. Can you tell us how that survey was performed? Who was included in the survey? Did it include the 45 million uninsured? Is there a peer-reviewed, published study that you could cite that corroborates your survey?
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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