Tuesday, October 30, 2007

5 Little-Known Giant Health Care Issues Facing the United States

While many people in the United States agree that some sort of health care reform is in order, those same individuals may be unaware of the specific problems within the system. Those who are engaged in current events may stay on top of all the following issues affecting patients and health care workers, but this is sadly not the case where the average citizen is concerned. With the 2008 presidential election on the horizon, it is more important than ever for casual observers to learn more about the following five little-known giant health care issues that individuals in the United States face.
1. Uninsured Millions Are Affecting Everyone

Many individuals complain about the shortcomings of our insurance policies, but do you know how many people are living without any kind of medical insurance? It is estimated that over 46 million Americans are currently uninsured. This is a testament to the many problems within the system. Most uninsured people go without insurance because of the initial cost, while others feel that outrageous premiums make insurance policies futile. In essence, many Americans have simply given up on health care insurance.

Without health insurance, people often neglect "well" visits to the doctor. Preventative medicine is essential for good health and longevity. Without regular checkups and childhood vaccinations, individuals and society as a whole may suffer. The individuals who avoid the doctor's office will experience more serious illnesses and conditions, while contagious diseases will spread throughout the public more readily when proper vaccinations and care are not administered.
2. Obesity Is Dangerously On the Rise

We hear it in the news all the time: "America is getting fatter." However, many of us dismiss how devastating this epidemic is to our health. Reports from 2005 indicated that 64.5% of American adults were overweight, possibly obese. Today, obesity rates are even higher and projected to grow exponentially. The health risks involved with obesity are numerous, though high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease are the most concerning. According to a 2005 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), obesity-related illnesses kill over 112,000 Americans each year. The CDC, however, links obesity with over 300,000 deaths per year. A large discrepancy, but both numbers are alarming.

Why are Americans getting so fat? Experts are attributing this to many factors. For one, workplaces are far less strenuous than they used to be. Our bodies, once built for hunting and gathering, are often sedentary through most of the day. Another large contributor to the nation's expanding waistline is the television. Both television programming and video games park people on their couches. The biggest factor in obesity, however, is overeating. Americans eat larger portions than necessary and are offered many delicious, albeit fatty, processed foods.
3. Pharmaceutical Companies Control More Than You Realize

Comparison shop between your local pharmacies all you like, your sticker shock can only be blamed on greedy pharmaceutical companies. Yes, we have them to thank for medicinal breakthroughs, and scientific research certainly isn't cheap; however, when the goal of a pharmaceutical company turns from profit to excess profit, everyone suffers.

The rising costs of prescription drugs have been devastating on Medicaid and Medicare programs, leading many doctors to stop accepting patients with such coverage. Also, high prices have gravely affected AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP), leaving many HIV/AIDS patients without life-saving medications. Doctors are continuously wined and dined by pharmaceutical representatives, which certainly can bias physicians to use certain prescriptions that may not be the cheapest or most effective options. Even some of the most respected medical journals, which are presumed to be unbiased, have been bankrolled by high-dollar drug advertisements.
4. Hospital Staff Shortages Are Killing People

Says Marge Sampson, a former hospital nurse, stated to the Chicago Tribune, "It's so scary to spend eight hours, flying by the seat of your pants and just praying. In my day, they taught you never to give a drug until you looked it up and verified the proper doses. But you can't do that. There's no time. You're just dumped into this. It's so nightmarish I can't even explain."

A nationwide shortage of hospital personnel has left many health care workers overworked and exhausted. The result? Mistakes occur, sometimes with deadly consequences. Many hospital workers are asked to cover areas where they have little experience, while others simply make mistakes due to stress and/or sleep deprivation. It is hard to say how many medical errors occur in American hospitals each year. Ironically, this lack of adequate documentation is also due to staff shortages. However, the Institute of Medicine estimates that 7000 people die each year in America from medication errors alone.
5. Veterans Are Being Neglected

A Harvard / Public Citizen report found that, as of 2003, 1.69 million veterans were without medical insurance or regular care from Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities. Those who earn too much to qualify for VHA services, yet not enough to afford private insurance, find themselves in a helpless situation. Others that do qualify for free VHA services may sit on long waiting lists while suffering from a chronic condition or disease or, upon acceptance, will receive inadequate care from an understaffed facility.

In 2005, it was acknowledged by U.S. government that the Department of Veterans Affairs was lacking $1 billion to operate with maximum efficiency. Since that time, organizations like the American Legion and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have been working overtime to make changes on Capitol Hill. However, the fact remains that many veterans, even those maimed in combat, have been all but abandoned by this health care system.

There are obviously no easy answers for the health care problems that face the United States today. However, the public needs to be aware of what is happening to the health care system, as all of these issues affect society as a whole. Even if you are content with your particular insurance policy or health care provider, you should still be concerned about hospital shortages. Even if you are of a healthy weight, obesity is undoubtedly a problem for someone you care about and is certainly on the rise for children. In short, the above "little-known" health care issues should be familiar to us all.


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