Rose’s Luxury

Is Medical Care Becoming a Luxury?

“I can’t afford to spend any more time here [in the hospital]. I don’t have the money.” These are the words of a victim in the mass shooting at Half Moon Bay, California, last month. It points to an uncomfortable truth. Increasingly, medical care is becoming a luxury. Helaine Olen describes it for the Washington Post:

“This is American health care, circa 2023. It’s state of the art and then some – if you’ve got the money. For almost everyone else, any encounter with the medical industrial complex can result in severe financial harm.”

Breakthroughs Out of Reach

Certainly, this is playing out with the breakthrough drugs for obesity. For some people, these advanced medicines seem like miracles. But for many people who might need them, they are simply out of reach. In fact, health systems are increasingly putting advanced, life-changing medical care out of reach for most people – effectively making it a luxury. Gina Kolata and Francesca Paris tell the story in the New York Times:

“Advances in science and immense investments by the federal government and drug companies have completely altered prospects for people with conditions that seemed untreatable in almost every area of medicine — cancers, allergies, skin diseases, genetic afflictions, neurological disorders, obesity.

“For many people using private insurance, innovative medicines are dangling just out of reach. Even when Medicare’s 2025 cap comes into play – or the $9,100 cap that already existed for those receiving insurance under the Affordable Care Act – many will still find drugs unaffordable. Research suggests large numbers of patients abandon their prescriptions when faced with $2,000 in payments.”

Beyond the U.S.

Yes, the disparities in healthcare are especially bad in the U.S. This means that we are spending more on healthcare in total, but getting less health for most people. Nonetheless, other countries are seem headed in a similar direction. Because of poor funding in the U.K., the National Health Service is facing a crisis while private healthcare is booming.

Drug prices are out of control in the U.S. The median annual price tag for a new drug in 2008 was $2,115. In 2021, that had soared by more than eight thousand percent to $180,007. Price controls in other countries mean that new drugs come first to the U.S. at unaffordable prices.

It’s little wonder that the launch of Wegovy has been delayed for the rest of the world until the supply is more than adequate for the U.S. A price more than ten times higher here than in the U.K. is understandably attractive for the seller. Money talks and medical care is becoming a luxury. But humanity cannot afford to tolerate these extreme disparities growing even greater.

Click here for more from Olen and here for more from Kolata and Paris.

Rose’s Luxury, photograph by Lou Stejskal, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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February 8, 2023