Minnesota health care track “unsustainable”

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“A six year-old girl enters the hospital with fatigue and a severe headache. Her white blood cell count is above 700,000, a clear sign of leukemia. Without immediate action, she would be dead within a week.”

Dr. Michael Richards, of St. Paul Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, MN recalled this real-life, all-too-common medical scenario at a panel presentation last Oct. 8 at Carleton College entitled “Health Care Reform for the Layman.”

“The family has no insurance,” Dr. Richards continued. “But the policy of Children’s Hospital states that no patient may be rejected for needed care.”

Pressville.org is a journalism web site covering stories about Northfield and Rice County, Minnesota — and the ways that this region connects to the state, country and world. It is created by students at Carleton College.

So the sick girl underwent a state-of-the-art blood transfusion which involved extracting nearly all the blood from her body, reoxygenating it, and subsequently placing it back into her body. The girl’s life was saved.

Dire Examples

But the family’s ordeal was far from over, because the medical crisis had become a financial crisis too.

The hospital bill for the first week was about $100,000. The parents would need to spend weeks or months working with the hospital’s insurance specialists on a payment plan, which could take a lifetime to pay off.

Dr. Richards joined two other health care experts at the Carleton College panel – Kristin Dybdal, Director of Health and Human Services at the Minnesota Office of Budget and Management; and Neil Chaffee, Vice President of Market Development at Consumer Aware, an affiliate of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

All three panelists, citing other dire examples besides the story told by Dr. Richards, said Minnesota’s current health care system is unsustainable.

Crunching Numbers

Fundamental changes on a state and national level are urgently needed, they said.

Dybdal said she has spent hours crunching health care numbers to forecast the impact growing health care costs will have on the state budget.

“By 2033, we’ll be spending 67% of our state budget on health care” if no reform is enacted, she said. As a result, funding increases for all other government agencies  – for education, housing, environment, etc. – would be negligible.

Chaffee, from Consumer Aware, added that medical bills already lead to more personal bankruptcies than any other expenditure.

Accounting for much of this debt, said Chaffee, is the rapid accumulation of hospital hours during the final years of one’s life.

No Endorsements

Eventually, Chaffee said, everyone has to responsibly answer, for both themselves and for society, the crucial question of how one wants to die.

“Eighty percent of people say they want their last days to be spent at home,” he said. “But these days, most commonly, just the opposite comes true.”

Yet none of the panelists last Thursday would endorse any version of Congress’ proposed health reform bills as they are presently written.

The panelists cited a lack of focus on health care fraud and waste in the proposed current legislation, as well as the hindrance that a large new government-option bureaucracy might have on innovation in health care.