Graph from "Health Care Costs: A Primer," a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation
Graph from "Health Care Costs: A Primer," a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation

There are numerous factors that drive up the costs of health care in the United States. The high cost of health care is a problem we have not been able to solve, and the consequences of not fixing this issue will impact everyone in the nation.

The way people seek health care in low-income communities like Boyle Heights proves that our current health care system is ineffective. Our community has a large uninsured population and many suffer chronic diseases such as diabetes. Unfortunately, people in these groups often seek care once it’s too late and are likely to turn to community emergency centers, over crowding them with non-emergencies.

Obtaining care at emergency rooms for things that can normally be treated by a primary care physician is very costly. Hospital and physician services easily account for about 51% of healthcare expenditures, this means that about half of what it costs to be hospitalized goes towards the hospital and physicians for their services. Providing care for the uninsured in emergency rooms is a major factor in our skyrocketing healthcare costs, and as a community, we must be aware of how we contribute to the growing costs of healthcare and ensure that we seek care appropriately.

In examining the big picture of why this is important to Boyle Heights, we must consider the following:

– The U.S. spends about 17% of our economy on healthcare, that is more than any nation in the world, and this will likely continue to grow. Surprisingly, we don’t really benefit from the tremendous amount of money we spend on healthcare.

– A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that health expenditures in the United States neared $2.6 trillion in 2010. With the money we spend on healthcare, we can easily provide access to care to all Americans including undocumented residents.

– Our healthy life expectancy, ranks only 29th in the world, behind Slovenia. Our infant mortality rate ranks 30th in the world””more than twice that of Sweden and Japan.

– The U.S. spends about $8,500 per person for healthcare, compared to the British who spend about $3,500 per person (and they have universal coverage).

– The California Healthcare Foundation shows that California has the largest number of people without health insurance at about 6.9 million, and 60% of those uninsured people are Latino.

– 5% of patients usually account for the 50% of the costs for care ”“ this means that a small percentage of the sickest patients are driving up half of all costs. Cleary, we need to figure out how we can best allocate resources to treat the sickest 5% of patients.

These staggering statistics indicate that our healthcare system is clearly inefficient and broken. Some of the sickest patients can be found in communities like Boyle Heights and continuously end up in local emergency rooms.

A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 33% of people across the U.S. relied on home remedies or over-the-counter medications instead of seeing a doctor for their care. It is not uncommon for people to delay care due to financial reasons or simply because they lack health coverage. However, delaying care until it is too late often poses greater challenges.

Complications from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other conditions can often be preventable with continuous care by a primary care doctor and lifestyle modifications.

As a community we contribute to the growing costs of healthcare and therefore, must learn to utilize community resources appropriately. Stay tuned for further information on some of the local resources that can help you live a healthier lifestyle and prevent unnecessary use of health resources.
Victor M. Peña is a native and resident of Boyle Heights. He has a little over five years of healthcare experience working with healthcare organizations in Santa Barbara county and Los Angeles county. He is currently completing his Masters in Business Administration with an emphasis in Management and manages a department at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downtown Los Angeles.

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