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Costly Premiums, Staffing Shortages, And Unsatisfied Patients Are Only The Tip Of The Iceberg For America’s Eroding Healthcare System

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The American healthcare system is eroding at a rapid pace, pushing workers and patients towards the abyss as a torrent of COVID-related issues continues to persist two years after the pandemic took hold of the country.

With problems only worsening, Americans are feeling less and less satisfied with the current conditions of the healthcare system, a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows.

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In general, a majority of Americans are not completely satisfied with the conditions of the healthcare system. Included in the poll, access to basic care, treatment for older patients, and health care coverage are among the coveted issues that have left many Americans feeling dissatisfied with current conditions.

The negative remarks come at a crucial time for the healthcare system, as droves of medical staff and employees have been quitting their jobs as ongoing scheduling problems and wage disputes only push employees towards higher rates of burnout.

The pandemic, which only exacerbated the many underlying issues plaguing the healthcare system, stretching staff and other resources to their limits has seen the sector lose about 37,000 healthcare workers since February 2020.

Employees are quitting en masse, and many more are initiating mass labor movements to help push private healthcare providers to offer better pay and staffing conditions.

A recent three-day strike of roughly 15,000 private healthcare nurses in Minnesota was earmarked as one of the largest in American history. Nurses in Minneapolis and Duluth took to the streets, bearing the picket lines with slogans reading “Patients Before Profits.”

The lack of quality healthcare and staffing issues are only a few of the alarms that have sent shockwaves across the sector in recent months.

Costly Premiums

Stubbornly high inflation rates have seen Americans paying more for basic goods and services this year, as the consumer price index (CPI) inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in June 2022. Since then, inflation has been coming down, but August saw higher than expected inflation, with prices up 8.3% year on year.

Although the CPI rate has consecutively come down from June, the last of such witnessed in the first half of 2020, higher prices have now spread throughout the medical sector, leaving private and public healthcare providers with no other option but to hike up premiums.

The Affordable Care Act has been earmarked for a steady increase in premiums, as insurers in the ACA marketplace proposed an increase of 10%, some insurers have been more aggressive, proposing a 20% hike up on premiums. The sharp increase reflects the higher cost of medical tools and services, alongside growing labor costs.

With more than 13.8 million people enrolled in ACA benefits and programs, the higher prices could see the majority of them paying out of pocket towards their premiums and medical costs.

Although 13 million or so people will see their premiums go up throughout 2023, most of these increases could perhaps be cushioned by enhanced subsidies and ACA-related benefits.

However, those that will be the hardest impacted by the steady premium hikes are small businesses, who have for the most part experienced major headwinds throughout the last few years as the changing economic cycle eats away at their profits.

Recent figures revealed that the monthly increase of 0.8% in medical care services cost is the fastest and most aggressive jump since October 2019.

The higher premiums would leave many employers having to decide whether it will be financially viable for their business to apply for ACA coverage in November this year. This could leave a majority of Americans in the dark, as roughly 54% of American employees make use of employer-sponsored healthcare insurance.

But healthcare will for the most part always outpace inflation, because the system was designed that way, and has been working on this notion for decades without the government stepping in to bring on mass change or reform.

Hospitals have reached a critical level

Hospitals across the country have reached a critical level, leaving many medical facilities having to cut healthcare services or permanently close down.

In a report published by the American Hospital Association (AHA), roughly 136 rural hospitals were closed between 2010 and 2021, with 19 closures in 2020 alone, the highest since the recording started.

The majority of the hospital closures, around 74% thereof were due to ineffective Medicare expansion.

The high rate at which hospitals and medical care facilities are shutting down services has only added salt to an already wounded industry.

Physical closures aren’t the only problem that’s making healthcare more and more unattractive in America, but rather a lack of services and qualified professionals.

Across the country, at least six major hospitals have in recent months either closed facilities or mentioned that they will be scaling back on available services due to a lack of staff.

On June 15, Memorial Hospital of Carbon County in Rawlins, WY., closed its labor and delivery services due to insufficient availability of nurses. The hospital was spending roughly $100,000 per week on travel nurses.

Since then, hospitals in Kemmerer, WY., Gallup, N.M., Maumee, OH, Williamston, N.C., and most recently on August 12, Cleveland-based University Hospitals in Richmond Heights also closed down several patients care and treatment wards due to a lack of staff, and increasing patient demand.

Across the country, hospitals and their staff are being put to the ultimate test, and it’s leaving more and more healthcare workers feeling burned out, exhausted, and dealing with other major mental issues.

Research found that roughly 18% of healthcare professionals quit their job during the height of the pandemic, and 31% considered leaving. The shortage of skilled professionals has raised many questions over how the medical industry will be able to address the growing issues before being caught with its back bent completely backward.

Immigration reform is outdated

The ongoing debate on immigration between parties on both sides of the aisle has now sparked private sector players to step in and bring forth solutions that can help alleviate the severity of the country's major labor shortages.

President and CEO of the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), David Schless recently published a letter in which he and other ASHA members have made recommendations on how the Senate can improve immigration procedures for non-native healthcare workers.

Among the recommendations Schless and ASHA included were a front-line worker visa category, granting permanent legal status for  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and Temporary Protected Status, and fast-tracking the application process.

On the political side of matters, California Senator, Alex Padilla also recently took to the floor in during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety hearing, where he addressed the issue of massive labor shortages, and how regulations that are eroding the system has remained largely unreformed since the 1990s/

Padilla went on to say that “We know immigrant health care workers can help to fill this gap and provide critical care to so many communities in need.” Despite Padilla taking to the floor, legislators have been dragging their feet to address the ongoing issues or remove the barriers that are keeping professional and skilled immigrant healthcare workers from seeking temporary residency or job security in the country.

Despite his efforts, Padilla’s first bill as Senator - The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act - introduced back in 2021 has not yet come to a full vote or been met with open arms by the Senate.

Going Forward

The medical industry has reached a point of no return, and in the coming years, if no action is taken, conditions will only deteriorate faster than anticipated.

Among the many challenges the government is currently facing, the healthcare system is perhaps its most problematic, as both the livelihood and health of millions of patients and workers depend on their intervention.

Challenging economic conditions have also further worsened the conditions for many private and public medical care facilities in the country. Aside from rising hospital bills, and facility closures, many Americans will find themselves paying more for medical premiums in the coming year, even as government subsidies cushion most of the fall.

How the government will navigate this soft landing will only drag out in the years to come. But perhaps instead of keeping millions in limbo, or playing around with the health of a country through political agendas, the government will need to take a more practical, innovative, and hands on approach if they seek to rebuild the system. The issues will persist, as long as the government withstands any intervention.