America is Suffering from Financial PTSD

When Barack Obama was running for President, he promised change and the end of back room deals. He won in a landslide. Now more than a year since he took office, nothing much has changed in the eye of the public. The back room deal-making and the pork amendments the Democratic leadership has shamelessly heaped onto the Health Care Reform bill to ensure its passage look just like business as usual. Why should we believe our “leaders” when they tell us this new healthcare proposal will be better for us? Or save money in the long term?

The American people are suffering from a major case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). We hear of PTSD afflicting those returning from the battlefields in Iraq,  Afghanistan or Pakistan. But people at home are suffering a variation of this syndrome from life shattering financial events like learning that your mortgage is now higher than the value of your house; or that your 401K is worth 50% of what it used to be; or that your tax bill will rise to pay for the bailouts of banks who refuse to lend you money.
Losing your job, your home, or your life savings can often lead to acute stress and leave a permanent mark on your psyche. With PTSD, the event is re-enacted every time you think a similar threat is on its way. That is how some are viewing the health care proposal.
It also takes real audacity to expect us now to support a healthcare plan that nobody understands because the particulars haven’t been spelled out. It is incomprehensible even to many in the health care field. The Congressional budget office recently said they didn’t have enough information on the bill to say what it will cost. After being pressed, they’re now saying the health care reform package would cost $940 billion over the first 10 years and reduce the deficit by $130 billion. Can we believe it?
Putting the huge cost aside, the main thing is that proposal doesn’t get at the changes we need in the way healthcare is actually delivered. If you decide to have a hip or a knee replaced, you cannot easily find the basic information you need to make an informed decision: What will the procedure cost me? What quality of life will you enjoy after you undergo the procedure? Has the surgeon you are considering done five or five hundred knee replacements? What about the infection rate at the hospital you’re considering?
The rate of “superbugs” acquired in hospitals has nearly doubled in the past decade. Approximately one out of every 22 patients who checks into a U.S. hospital acquires a bacterial infection, adding more than $28 billion to health care costs, according to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year 99,000 people die as a result of the infections they get in hospitals. That seems an area ripe for improvement and cost savings.
President Obama claims to have a strong orientation toward disease prevention. That sounds good but unless it is imbedded into the revised health care system with financial incentives for prevention and wellness, it is meaningless for reducing costs in the longer term.Why not offer incentives to businesses to put worksite prevention and wellness programs in place? Skyrocketing healthcare costs are impossible for businesses to ignore. Many business models exist; models that demonstrate a substantial ROI. How about tax incentives to adopt these models and then promote opportunities to share what works with others? So far, as the bill comes to a vote, healthcare reform doesn’t address any of these issues. At best you could say it’s an insurance reform bill.
Empowering consumers with the information and advice they need to take charge of their health is a vital part of real reform. If we can learn to trade our own financial accounts on line, we can be taught to exercise more, lose weight, and to bring down our blood pressure. We can learn the evils of sugar and transfats. These things will lower health care costs and result in savings in productivity at the workplace or in co-payments out of your own pocket.
The motives of the drive for universal healthcare are understood clearly by anyone who doesn’t have it and has experienced a need for costly care for themselves or a loved one, and perhaps been wiped out financially by it. For many it is a  significant  source of financial stress beyond an underwater mortgage or diminished investment accounts. It’s another source of PTSD.
Since Christmas, support for the Administration’s healthcare proposal has been dwindling because we don’t know enough about how it will affect us and what it will cost. You can bet cost estimates are understated; our premiums are rising already. Polls show that Americans don’t want this proposal. Because our PTSD radar is up; we have learned not to trust what comes out of Washington. We can’t seem to get a straight story. Where the Audacity of Hope is concerned, with regards to health reform, Obama only got the audacity part right.
Pamela J. Maraldo PhD.