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Cancer is a horrible disease that prematurely ends far too many lives. In America, those who are diagnosed with cancer face an added worry — the costs of their treatment.
More than 40 percent of patients who receive a new cancer diagnosis lose their entire life savings because of the cost of their treatment, according to a study published last year in The American Journal of Medicine. The average decline in net worth, which includes a loss of income and depleted assets, was $92,000 two years after diagnosis.
It would be easy to blame Americans for not saving enough money, but this is the only developed country where medical care is a leading contributor to bankruptcy. Two-thirds of bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are tied to medical issues.
So, clearly big changes are needed in America’s health care system. Bills to lower prescription drug prices — which all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have introduced and supported — and to require more transparency in medical costs and billing are helpful. And, extending affordable health insurance to more Americans through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion are improvements.
But, when people with health insurance can still be driven into bankruptcy by the cost of needed medical care — or worse, die because they cannot afford treatment — our system clearly is not working.
The Trump administration has long promised a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans lawmakers spent years trying to repeal, but nothing has been forthcoming. Instead, it has weakened the act through administrative actions and a court challenge, which the administration supports, could gut the act.
Democratic candidates for president, by contrast, have numerous plans for major health care overhauls. There are many models to follow, including some already in place in America, like Medicare, which is popular among its recipients.
We’re not sure what form a new system should take, but moving to a system that provides affordable health care (not just health insurance) to all Americans is long overdue.
Health care is likely to play a central role in the 2020 election, just as it did in 2018. Health care is a top concern for Americans, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. A quarter of Democratic voters listed health care as their top concern, twice as many as rated the next issue — climate change and energy — as their most important issues, according to a Kaiser Health Tracking poll last month.
Cost is one reason so many Americans are concerned about health care. In a March Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans said they worry “a great deal” about the availability and affordability of health care; 25 percent said they worry “a fair amount.”
In an April Gallup poll, 51 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat worried about being able to cover the medical costs in case of an accident or serious illness.
Remaking the American health care system, of course, is no simple thing. It will take years, and there will be much debate about its elements and cost. But, we should all be able to agree that a system that drives people to financial ruin when they are diagnosed with an illness like cancer is not acceptable.