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Health costs can bankrupt even those with insurance

NewspaperSeattle Times Health Reporter Kyung Song tells the story of Mark Moody and Glenda Krull, an Edmonds couple struggling to cover their health care expenses even though they are middle class and have health insurance.

Moody’s case is complicated by the fact that he needs a second liver transplant, which his policy will not cover.

“For Americans with serious illnesses, even good insurance is no guarantee they won’t go broke and they will get all the medical care they need,” writes Song.

“In 2007, nearly two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies filed across the country were linked to illnesses, loss of income or high medical bills, according to a survey published in June by researchers at Harvard University and Ohio University. Of those cases, 78 percent of the debtors had health insurance when they first got sick.

“What’s more, even insured people without serious health problems like Moody are struggling to afford increasingly higher deductibles and co-pays that are eroding the value of employer-provided insurance — even as employers are also paying more to provide that coverage.”

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Is U.S. cancer research too cautious?

nci-vol-1988-72Many cancer scientists feel funders of U.S. cancer research have been too cautious, favoring safe research projects over more daring proposals that at least hold the promise of making breakthrough discoveries, writes New York Times reporter Gina Kolata in today’s paper.

Kolata notes that since President Richard M. Nixon declared his “War on Cancer” in 1971, the U.S. has spent $105 billion on cancer research.

Yet the fight against cancer is going slower than most had hoped, with only small changes in the death rate in the almost 40 years since it began.

One major impediment, scientists agree, is the grant system itself. It has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer.

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PHOTO CREDIT: National Cancer Institute

Would a publicly run health insurance plan be unfair?

pill-billHarvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw argues in the New York Times business pages today that a publicly run health insurance plan will likely become the dominant health insurer and use its market power to force doctors and other providers to drop their prices.

“To be sure, squeezing suppliers would have unpleasant side effects. Over time, society would end up with fewer doctors and other health care workers. The reduced quantity of services would somehow need to be rationed among competing demands. Such rationing is unlikely to work well.”

Moreover, squeezing providers would be unfair, Mankiw argues.

Improved competition is a better solution, he contends.

“A competitive system of private insurers, lightly regulated to ensure that the market works well, would offer Americans the best health care at the best prices.

“The health care of the future won’t come cheap, but a public option won’t make it better.”

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Do you have adequate insurance to cover long-term care?

If you need long-term care either at home or in a nursing home, Medicare will not cover it, writes Walecia Konrad in a New York Times “Patient Money” column.

“Medicare pays for only short-term medical care at home or for a limited stay in a nursing home after a hospitalization.

“Medicaid pays for long-term care — but not until people have already spent the majority of their financial assets.”

Konrad asks the experts about when you should buy coverage and what kind of policies you should look for.

“A good long-term care insurance can help protect assets, as well as pay for expenses,” she writes.

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See also these local resources on health insurance:

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