Monday, August 26, 2019

'Gaping hole' is found in U.S. health system

N.Y. Times article exposes major economic hardships that some cancer caregivers are facing

America's health system is badly flawed because it's making caregivers of patients with cancer and other diseases work much too hard to negotiate it — especially economically.

Aaron E. Carroll
That's the basic conclusion of a recent The New York Times article by Aaron E. Carroll, a professor at Indiana University School of Medicine.

In the piece, Carroll says his friend, international fraternity CEO Jim Fleischer's story about a rare cancer taught him about the problem in our health system.

Despite his friend having "great insurance" and "enough money" and getting "excellent care," he discovered the "impossibility and hardship faced by…friends and family members who are caregivers."

The situation, Carroll writes, is "hugely disrupting and expensive. There's no system for it. It's a gaping hole." 

The writer cites as an example that following his surgery and chemotherapy, his friend's wife, mother-in-law, friends and co-workers needed to take lots of time off to care for him and take him to appointments.

Carroll also suggests that "if it was this hard for [Jim], it's probably unbearable for many others with fewer resources. People can be financially ruined by illness — and health insurance won't fix that."

Last year, the Times piece notes, "it's estimated that more than 1.7 million people faced a cancer diagnosis. The year before, America spent more than $147 billion caring for people with cancer. But that doesn't include the costs outside of health care."

This year, the article continues, "the National Cancer Institute will spend more than $5.7 billion on cancer research. Almost none of that will investigate how to support the families of those who have the disease."

Researchers in the past have estimated the "economic burden for caregivers for patients with lung and colorectal cancer," Carroll says. "They reported that the average cost to a caregiver in the initial phase of treatment was more than $7,000," with an additional $20,000 spent after treatment on so-called continuing care.

Another study cited caregiving costs for breast cancer at $38,000, lung cancer at $72,000, for ovarian cancer $66,000, for lymphoma $59,000.

Carroll concludes that it's crucial to recognize "that the efforts of caregivers are probably just as important to health as the drugs and procedures the medical system provides."

More details about the issues that helpmates have can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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