February, 2010

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Think you don’t need health care reform if you’re covered by your employer? Wrong.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

You may have heard that Anthem-Blue Cross proposed raising its rates for individual health insurance policies by as much as 39 percent in California. President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have both decried this outrageous hike. A recent report from the Associated Press shows that similarly huge rate hikes are coming to individual policies in many states including Maine, Kansas, Oregon and Indiana.

“You’re going to see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent” for individual health policies in the near term, Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the health insurance and managed care committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, predicted Friday.

But you might think that this has nothing to do with you if you’re employed by a company that provides you with health insurance. Unfortunately, all of us are affected, no matter where we get our insurance.

The Anthem-Blue Cross increase is the harbinger of things to come in employer-provided policies as well.

Last week, I heard from someone whose employer had to switch from a comprehensive policy to bare bones insurance because the insurer raised the company’s group rate by about 30 percent. So now, instead of offering employees a policy that covers just about anything, from a broken ankle to a liver transplant, the company will offer its employees a policy with an annual cap of just $25,000.

That’s employer-provided insurance that’s in danger now. And that means that more Americans are at risk of having either no insurance or inadequate insurance when a medical emergency strikes.

As a doctor, I am well aware of the high cost of medical care and can assure you that a policy with a $25,000 annual cap won’t cover much if you need hospitalization. I’ve dealt with that reality, not just as a physician, but as a mother. As I wrote on this blog before, when my daughter had to be hospitalized a few years ago, we learned too late that her school-provided policy had a $25,000 annual cap. Lucky for Kimmie that her parents are both doctors and could afford to pay the tens of thousands of dollars in hospital and medical bills that her insurance didn’t cover.

What would you do if one of your loved ones needed medical care and your insurance was inadequate?

This is no longer an issue for the uninsured. It’s an issue for us all. Please tell your Senators and Congressional representatives that you support health care reform. The life of someone you know, maybe someone you love, maybe your own, may depend on what happens next in Washington, DC.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The End of the Horrible Hospital Gown?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The open-backed, modesty-destroying, ugly hospital gown is set for oblivion, at least in the United Kingdom:

To address the shortcomings of the much-abused medical garb, the U.K.’s Department of Health recruited designer Ben de Lisi to give the hospital gown a design overhaul, the BBC reports. De Lisi, who has outfitted stars such as Kate Winslet, came up with a solution that offers more coverage while also including “entrance points” for the necessary medical access.

It’s about time.

Back when I was on the faculty of Cornell in the 1980s, I decided that no woman who visited my Cornell practice would be forced to wear one of those open-backed monstrosities.

They always made a woman feel all exposed. As a woman myself, I was especially sensitive to the indignity of it all.

So I designed a pretty blue poncho with an opening that fit over a woman’s head. It covered everything, and allowed for easy examination.

I’m surprised that more doctors and hospitals haven’t done anything similar but I like the U.K.’s new plan. Here’s hoping the U.S. follows suit.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH