OPINION: We Don’t Have Single-Payer Yet, But We Still Have a Choice
Prescription costs continue to rise with every passing year. Every month, patients find themselves paying higher on their out-of-cost medical care obligations. And to top it all off, some people outright refuse medical care when they most need it to avoid digging themselves deeper into a financial hole they know they’ll remain stuck in if they schedule a visit with a doctor.
While the burden the current health care system puts on patients may differ, the outcome remains the same. That is, the responsibility for medical costs in the country has become a patient problem rather than a caretaker concern.
But just because we seem to be far removed from a single-payer health care system doesn’t mean we can’t make important changes to improve treatment reform and the patient experience today.
What is Single-Payer Health Care? (and What Do We Have Instead?)
Before we delve into the changes that can help us get a few steps closer to a single-payer health care system, you may be wondering what that even means.
In the United States, the financial obligations of health care continuously shift more and more towards the patient — exposing us to the fact that our nation is a long way from the single-payer system it may need.
This means that rather than having a system where one primary organization takes care of the necessary health care financing for the country, our nation currently operates under a system of health care that depends on multiple private agencies.
How Individual Practices Can Improve the Health Care Model
Even though our national government can’t agree on a single-payer plan for the country’s health care system moving forward, there are a few steps individual practices can take to alleviate the burden of health care costs that’ll typically placed on patients. Here’s a look at several ways individual health care practices can take the steps towards a change:
1. Prescribe Necessary Medications (and Suggest Generic Brands)
In the U.S alone, pharmaceutical companies gross over $480 million per year on prescription drugs. Since many patients have health care plans that don’t cover the total cost of these medications, it’s crucial to explore alternative options that can help patients — especially low-income individuals — find relief in a cost-effective manner.
Not only does the over-prescription of medication take a toll on your health, but it also results in unnecessary medical bills. Since more Americans are using pills than ever before, it’s vital to cut down on these costs — and needless prescriptions — by recommending alternative treatment options instead.
Whenever possible, doctors should make an effort to provide patients with a list of generic medications that’ll lower an individual’s out-of-pocket costs. If you’re a patient and feel like your financial concerns aren’t being met, consider seeking a second opinion so that you can connect with a doctor who will value working with your needs.
2. Put Trust Back in the Health Care System
While individual practices can’t change the health care system alone, they can make the individual efforts that will help instill a new sense of trust in how patients experience their treatment.
Individual practices should make the attempt to be transparent with their policies and standards of operation to ensure that patients always know just what to expect when they walk through your front door.
I can’t count how many times I’ve had a doctor offer a quick procedure, test or treatment without explaining what it may cost. Who else — especially younger people like myself who are still figuring out what our health care system is all about — can relate to that sinking feeling when you get an outrageously high bill in the mail that you weren’t budgeting for?
Obviously, doctors can’t necessarily know upfront how much your individual plan will cover, but at least giving an estimate of the worst case scenario could help patients budget and plan for their health better. Unexpected medical costs top the list of health care costs that Americans report being afraid they don’t be able to pay for.
Providing patients with all of the information they need to know beforehand while offering them information on cheaper alternative insurances or medications is a necessary part of reducing otherwise high-cost treatment.
3. Look for Alternative Opportunities
Every year, hundreds of thousands of individuals find themselves unable to afford the high costs associated with medical bills. From low-income patients to elderly individuals without access to quality medical care, many people choose to forgo treatment whenever necessary. But when you realize that nearly 29,000 deaths each year result from insufficient medical care coverage, this issue becomes much more pressing.
For medical care facilities, this may mean providing more internships and volunteer opportunities — or uncompensated work — to level out costs a bit. It’s also important for health care locations to connect patients to secondary resources that provide them with alternative or more affordable treatment options, too.
Why It’s Urgent We Take Better Care of Our Patients
Our country would do well to implement a single-payer system. But since we can’t seem to get on the same page about it quite yet, we must call on health care professionals to act ethically and more in the public’s best interest until then. Some professionals go out of their way to provide payment plans to their patients who are in need of services or treatment but who can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. No-interest loans for medical patients is also becoming quite common, too.
Make no mistake — there are many small steps that health care practitioners can take to ensure that treatment and medical care is affordable and accessible to many more of us.