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The current United States healthcare system is a heavily debated topic as the 2020 election comes into full swing. Some are proclaiming a transition to Medicare for all and others are pushing for a public option that allows individuals to choose their plans, including government-provided options. To help you better understand the difficulties facing the healthcare system, as well as the challenges of navigating it, let’s explore in-depth just how the system works and what can be done to mitigate the stress of accessing care.

The Financial and Legal Challenges of Navigating Healthcare

Over 44 million Americans are uninsured with another 38 million having inadequate insurance. The lack of insurance or appropriate coverage is one of the biggest hurdles facing Americans when it comes to accessing healthcare services. Without necessary coverage, millions of Americans face crushing medical debt or the possibility of forgoing needed treatment to avoid debt they cannot pay.

These facts have been thrown to the forefront of the 2020 political debates, with each candidate putting forth their solutions to help lift this burden off the shoulders of the people. However, regardless of who enters into office, the difficulties facing Americans now and those already struggling with medical debt is something that must also be taken into consideration.

Already it costs over $250 billion to process the 30 billion healthcare transactions that occur every year. Adding to that are the 20,000 malpractice claims which are filed by patients and family members each year. The problem here comprises both how the medical industry is structured and how lower rates of coverage result in underinsured Americans receiving a lower standard of care. Studies indicate that uninsured or underinsured individuals are less likely to receive preventative care or services for both major health issues and chronic conditions that would otherwise be treatable.

Arguments against Medicare for all and healthcare reform insist that a higher influx of patients now able to seek affordable treatment will result in even higher rates of malpractice, though many counter-argue that adequate reform will reduce the number of claims due to more readily accessible superior care programs. To understand the truth, let’s look that the top reasons people file malpractice claims as reported in a study published in J Law Med Ethics.

  • 33 percent of respondents answered that they were advised to sue from someone outside of their immediate family, 56% of which were advised by someone in the medical field.
  • 24 percent of respondents said that they sued for malpractice because they needed money for long-term care.
  • Another 24 percent said that they were intentionally misled by a healthcare provider.
  • 20 percent of respondents said they sued because their child wouldn’t be able to have a future.
  • Another 20 percent said they filed a claim to get more information that they felt had been withheld from them.
  • 19 percent of respondents filed because they wanted to prevent future errors or get justice for their malpractice injury.

As this study shows, out of 127 families surveyed, a majority of malpractice cases were filed at the advice of a medical professional or because a family either needed money or felt they had been misled intentionally. Though the survey conducted was only on a small group, it shows that one of the top concerns facing Americans is the high cost of care which leads to legal entanglement in the hopes of mitigating the burden.

Power of Attorney

Another legal issue that many Americans face is obtaining acceptance as powers of attorney. About 63 percent of those surveyed by the Joint Editorial Board of Uniform Trust reported that they had occasional difficulty, with another 17 percent saying they had frequent difficulty. Having the power of attorney over healthcare is important if an individual is incapacitated and unable to make healthcare decisions for themselves. When family members have difficulty being accepted in this role, it can lead to unnecessary stress, especially if the problems are occurring in the middle of a medical emergency. If the power of attorney is rejected, it’s often up to the family to seek out a lawyer to help them get approval. These difficulties, coupled with the challenges of haggling with insurance companies or navigating healthcare costs upfront, contributes to the growing frustration and outright avoidance of medical intervention for potentially treatable issues and concerns.

The Debate in 2020

As we’ve discussed, healthcare is one of the foremost debate topics of the 2020 election, but voters need to understand the differences in the plans that are being put forth. Universal coverage, for instance, would attempt to provide insurance for all American residents. In other countries that have this system implemented, these services are paid for by either public or private programs, sometimes a combination of both. Alternatively, a single-payer healthcare system utilizes one entity — not necessarily the government — which pays for all healthcare services. Contrary to popular belief this is not a form of socialized medicine, which would instead consist of government ownership over all medical facilities, professionals, and payment plans.

That said, a majority of Americans are also split on how healthcare should be reformed, with most being concerned about the overall cost they are paying, as opposed to the system used to insure them. As of 2016, the United States has been spending twice as much as other Western nations on healthcare, with the U.S. spending 25 percent more than the second-highest spending nation, Switzerland. And a recent survey of voters in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire show that voters there are more concerned about out of pocket costs and not the insurance coverage itself.

Different Ideas

Both parties have various solutions on how to fix the rising costs of healthcare, though even along party lines there are not concrete agreed on solutions. Most in the Democratic party wish to see the government play a larger role in healthcare, while Republicans are rallying for less government interference and more free-market programs. Both solutions bear weight, though unless a solution can be agreed upon, healthcare will likely remain a hot debate topic for decades of elections to come.

In addition to access to care, there are also different ideas about types of care. Long-term care, mental health services, and addiction rehabilitation have also become hot button issues that hopeful candidates are talking about this election season. Once again at the heart of these problems lies the cost of care and accessibility. Mental health and addiction services, in particular, are areas in which the healthcare system is severely lacking. Even as though some candidates have put forth plans for reform in these areas, only a few have devised plans regarding Americans in rural areas and those living with disabilities.

What Can Be Done to Mitigate Difficulty in Accessing Care?

First and foremost the healthcare system needs to be reformed to match the current needs of American citizens and it needs to be done in a way that the common public can understand. This means removing unnecessary jargon and instead laying out healthcare plans in a way that doesn’t exclude individuals without a medical degree. Often families have the most difficulty when it comes to trying to understand exactly what their insurance plans cover and what all they are being charged for. This confusion can lead to people being overcharged for services and paying more simply because they cannot understand the ins and outs of the current medical system.

Furthermore, there needs to be a collective move to bring down the price of necessary treatments and drugs to ensure that they are both accessible and affordable for every American. Because cost is the number one concern of voters in this election, this issue is likely to be the one talked about and targeted the most. Until healthcare costs can be reigned in, we will likely continue to see the same aversion to care and the denial of treatment in fear of debt accumulation that we have seen for the past decade.

While these changes are likely to not be seen immediately, what we can do now is not hesitate to ask questions and demand answers to all of our healthcare concerns. If you don’t understand your current policy and feel that you are underinsured, speak to your insurance company and ask them to explain your policy in full.

If you’re currently without insurance and need care, you can call doctors, hospitals, and urgent care centers in your area and ask for prices. Often urgent care centers offer faster and more affordable care than hospitals or doctor’s offices. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe a generic version of a prescription you need or use a discount app to save on the cost.

The healthcare system is tricky at best to navigate, but if people continue to speak up about their difficulties, it’s likely that soon there will be a solution reached that can better benefit the American people.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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