Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lost Cause

Lost Cause

There was no disguising the pain on the face of the physician when the discussion on the topic of obesity came to a close. Over sixty, he had seen a career filled hard luck cases. Debilitated and dying children were the grist for his mill, yet he remained positive despite the exposure to all these tragedies. Illness in children is not entirely avoidable. A person who works in pediatrics as long as he found peace in helping those he could help, without becoming distraught by the cases where he was helpless to alter dire outcomes.

The conversation progressed from an anecdote of a patient post-op who was accompanied by seven highly trained medical professionals packed into an ICU room. Fourteen drips were running, and another staff member stood before a computer in the hallway, laboring to document the various interventions underway, along with constant assessments being taken and recorded, as well.

How much does it cost to compensate skilled healthcare workers? All are required to complete lengthy preparations that do not come cheap. Just serving the school debts of the people at the patient's bedside is an enormous sum. All tolled, the care for this patient far exceeded any premiums she had paid into her healthcare plan.

Insurance spreads the cost across a pool of people, managing the risk present for each and every one of its members. Some of us will get cancer, and the bills will be born by the lucky people in the pool who are not ill. It works great for diseases that are relatively rare. It doesn't work at all when 35% of the pool has a severe illness.

35% of adults in the United States are obese. That is a pool buster. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular demise, they all lead to patients in ICUs surrounded by caregivers who are still paying off their medical school bills. That's what was killing the Doc who had seen it all over his distinguished career. Obesity isn't just killing his patients, it is undermining his profession. How are the 65% who aren't obese going to pay the bills of the 35% who are? And, what really wrinkled his brow is the fact that there is no good reason for so many of our children to be so overweight.

He had heard the last beats of the hearts of young ones passing on from diseases no one could cure, and managed to maintain enthusiasm for treating those he could. Now, 35% of the country is putting their health up for grabs, despite the fact that changes in diet and exercise are well known solutions. Our nation has become a patient that could thrive, if only it could muster a will to live.