sick around america


What are your thoughts on our health insurance system? In the stories that we’ve covered here, which one do you relate to most...?

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Dear FRONTLINE,

Julie Alick wrote - I have a wonderful insurance company and I wouldn't give it up for anything. They pay my claims efficiently and correctly every time.

I also can say the same thing. My insurance company is called the Government of Canada. And I can go Julie one better. I don't even have to file a claim to my government. I just show my Health Card.

Six months into our marriage, 34 years ago, my wife became seriously ill. She was hospitalized for over a month. For several days she was being kept alive only by a combination of drugs until the doctors were able to determine her very unusual condition. I remember one afternoon when 5 specialists visited her in the hospital. At then end of her ordeal the only bill we received was for $2.00 - the cost of a TV rental in her room very early in her stay.

Our system in Canada is far from perfect. Most of us have some sort of extended coverage to pay for prescription drugs, ambulance charges, dental care, insurance while travelling out of the country, CPAP devices, vision care, fees for services from such as a chiropractor, podiatrist, osteopath, physiotherapist, acupuncturist, speech pathologist, naturopath. These coverages have some restrictions - usually a financial ceiling and 80% reimbursement of charges. Many of us have this extended coverage through our employment. My wife and I are both retired. Our extended health care costs for the both of us are under $100/month, excluding dental care. Dental coverage is relatively expensive - about $100/month - so we figured we could self-insure at our age.

At age 65 prescription drug and vision care coverage is included with our government plan - similar to Medicare coverage in the US, I presume.

I was able to retire from my job as a teacher at age 53. My pension is fully indexed. At the time, our children were on the way to completing their first university degree with no student loans at the end of 4 years. We had paid off our mortgage many years previously. My wife wanted to keep working for a few additional years, partly to build up her pension. This June we will be making our 7th visit to Europe since I retired, spending 3 weeks in France (Paris & Provence).

We don't think much about health care costs.

Doug Phillips
Smiths Falls, Ontario

Dear FRONTLINE,

My compliments to the producers on another fine example of journalistic reportage tackling the monster subject of healthcare in America. How refreshing to hear a Boston doctor sound-byte he and his associates make too much money! If I heard the same from the insurance and drug companies I might think there was hope for us all! Even with premium medical insurance ones best bet is to eat right and stay fit! ...

Stuart Edmondson
San Diego, Ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watch your programming all the time and always look forward to doing so. However I was very disappointed in your story about "Sick Around America". Specifically because you seem to be only concerned about health care for white Americans only. The are many Americans of all racial groups who are affected by the high cost of health care in this country. Shame on you for not interviewing more than just white American families. A better title for your documentary would be "Sick Around White America".

linda mcghee
chattanooga, tnx

Dear FRONTLINE,

I read your reply to the first letter. I would hope that a show on solutions would be in the works featuring Single Payer and others. It could be supported with experience in the other developed countries and here.

I thought your program was excellent as far as it went, and I appreciated the honest review of the Massachusetts Health Care program and its many shortcomings. It is very difficult to have universal health care and not have it non-profit. Since we already have Medicare, expanding and improving that, seems to make the most sense for the American taxpayer. Many countries have extra health care available thru for profit or non-profit insurers. That could be a solution for those in the US also. Still most people in those developed countries spend less than 10% on extra insurance.

Lastly, I know that many of us Single Payer supporters are very sensitive about the fact that there is so tremendous grassroots support for single payer yet the media rarely mentions it. We tend to believe that media is under the control of the insurance and drug company lobbies, or at least under control of the politicians who seem to be under control of those health care lobbies.

Please consider another show with solutions and include the grassroots supported single payer. We need the best health care in the U.S. for the best price.

Gaye Kopas
Austin, Tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

Kudos to Frontline and PBS for this excellent piece of journalism. I am annoyed by those who have criticized this piece for one reason or another. Sick Around America portrayed excellent issues and focused on what real people are going through in this horrendous health care system we have created. I want to also add my kudos to two previous PBS specials which aired last year, specifically Sick Around the World and POV Critical Condition. Collectively, these documentaries have shed much needed light on the American health care nightmare.

As an addendum to the testimonials you presented I personally had to live through my own health care crisis last year. In 2003, like so many, I was the victim of a corporate layoff from a company with had excellent health care benefits. Then at the age of 60 I found myself confronted with a rapidly progressing blood cancer which my doctors believed would be fatal unless treated. And even with treatment the odds of beating this cancer were not great. After eleven months, $320,000 in medical expenses, 12 hospitalizations for a total of 90 days and six months of chemotherapy, I have fortunately found myself in remission. At this point my story takes a radically different turn from those you presented. Due to sheer luck, when I lost my job in 2003 I was eligible for an early retirement which included retaining my health care insurance at an affordable price. This allowed me to avoid a financial crisis on top of my health care nightmare. I've found it somewhat annoying that my insurance company managed to settle my $320,000 bill for only .60 cents on the dollar. The hospitals and doctors would have demanded payment in full if I had walked in with no insurance coverage. I now attribute new meaning to the expression "There but for the grace of God go I.

D.J. Jones
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have a wonderful insurance company and I wouldn't give it up for anything. They pay my claims efficiently and correctly every time. My father has had many problems with Medicare, including very poor service and mountains of red tape, how is an elderly person suppose to navigate through that system?

Julie Alick
Indianapolis, Indiana

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program on health in America was very helpful in reinforcing what most of us already know--either in the polite version that our health system is broken or in the blunt one that there is no health system in the USA.

But the response to the problem presented on the program focused on how insurance companies who play the dominant role in the problem are supposed to lead us out of it. Moreover, it omitted the only truly effective response to the problem--a single-payer universal system aka medicare for all aka HR 676. So the program let us down.

So long as profit, and not the provision of health care, remains the dominant goal, no genuine health system is going to come about. This is simply because there are too many ways to make a profit in the health industry precisely by avoiding the provision of health care and by manipulating the market, as the program did exemplify. The only adequate response is a national health system that is more efficient, economical, and above all, effective than can be supplied by profit-oriented health insurers.

Ira Clark
Gainesville, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

Although the part about the human stories behind the health care crisis were moving, I was expecting that the role of the for-profit insurance would be dealt with much more clarity. It's clear, especially after seeing your earlier documentary, Sick Around the World, that the heart of the problem is the insurance industry, a totally parasitical sector, which in the US is given free hand over our health care. As a result it absorbs a huge amount of the costs but, in return, offers very little. Actually it offers much less than any other system in the advanced world. However, your program allowed the mouthpieces of the industry to portray their employers as just another partner in health care business. It would have been, for example, quite helpful to show the amount profits the industry has been piling up while our costs are skyrocketing. This was a much anticipated documentary, which ended up quite disappointing.

New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

How many letters will get published? By cutting off the debate, you have once again silenced the single payer advocates like myself. Single payer represents social justice, compassion over greed. Why are our voices silenced? Sick people don't deserve to be sick. Illness and disease are not punishment for a poor life style.

Pamella Gronemeyer
Glen Carbon , IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for investigating America's health care system and bringing to light many facts that all of us need to be aware of. A national discussion on what is beginning to look like an American tragedy is obviously way past due.

It is now clear to me that "the market" has failed as a mechanism to provide health care for all Americans due to an inherent conflict of interest within the health insurance industry. Whereas companies in most industries fail their investors unless they provide value and service to their customers, companies in the health insurance industry achieve success by minimizing (excluding, denying and delaying) value and service. This is wrong. It is also wrong-headed.

If our nation really wants to live up to its Christian and democratic ideals it needs to be a moral and just nation. Should we really allow the invisible hand of "the market" to decide whether this or that human being is worthy of care? I can see that in many aspects of our lives the "market" system serves us exceedingly well. But, when it comes to fulfilling our basic needs for defense, police, roads, fire protection, education . . . and health care, it seems to me that we are best served by pooling our resources and caring for one another. Medical care for sick people should be a right, not a privilege.

How we respond to the fact of our broken health care system is not only a test of our morality. It is a test of our intelligence. And, it's a test that we can't afford to fail.

Karen Scarvie
Bainbridge Island, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a health insurance agent in Utah. I sit on the board of the utah health underwriters as webmaster for www.uahu.org and www.benefitsmanager.net. I was heavily envolved in designed a web connector to help Utah residents by pulling private and state sponsored insurance mechanisms together. Low budget of around $150k that virtually guaranteed health insurance coverage through either the private or state programs. Our state insurance committee rejected the idea. The elected to go for a Mass. type connector program that isn't working well when you check the actual facts. Our state approved H.B. 188 with a zero fiscal note attachment. My point is, I have been a fly on the wall in countless legislative meetings, insurance board meetings, hospital board meetings, the list goes on. The problem is conflict. Your episode brought perspective. You are absolutely right when you claim that healthcare is now unsustainable. I have been crying that a long time. Nobody listens.

Mike Oliphant
Layton, Utah

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

Your program was as informative as it was interesting.

You highlighted a case where a man was caught in a downsizing and had to move in with his mother. Of course we all are troubled about his situation, but you did not explore lifestyle choices that may have lead to his 95% clogged artery.

Lifestyle choices can be addressed through "Wellness Programs" by addressing a problem BEFORE it becomes life threatening.

There are many cost reductions available in our health care system that could be addressed through more control on fraud. Isn't it possible to achieve cost reduction & improved efficiencies through streamlining red tape and allowing various computer systems to share certain data bases?

And shouldn't tort reform be a part of the solution? There is a large problem nationally of OB-Gyn's leaving their practice due to the high cost of liability insurance. Who benefits most in that area - the lawyers or ???

Lastly I was surprised there was NO mention of our Illegal Immigration situation on medical costs.

Mark Kennedy
Scottsdale, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have two thoughts on Sick Around America. If we go to a healthcare system like they have in Canada and Europe, be expected to pay a lot more in taxes. At least up to 20% more in taxes. Is this exceptable? An extra 20% more taken out of your paycheck? It would be cheaper to pay the insurance offered by the company.

My other thought is this. I have a lot of dealing with the health care system as I have kidney disease and had a kidney transplant. I have had to have procedures done when I was not on health care. I have dealt with a couple of hospitals under these circumstances. I set up a payment plan with them at surprisingly affordable monthly payments. Hospitals seem to be helpful if you at least try to set something like this up since they will get their money one way or another. Just some thoughts.

Brainerd, Minnesota

Dear FRONTLINE,

I got home late from work and ran sum errands finally turned on the TV to my favorite channel 11.

I was glued to your program and was relieved to finally here that someone got it right about our health system and spoke out about it. We desperately all need to get involved no matter what level of income we live on. In time it will affect us all.

I am currently working for one of the major health organization you have mention in your program. To keep my identity safe I cannot mention names. However I can relate to most of the issues that were talked about in your program.

Let me explain how it ran from the inside. I do know why some of the insurers are given the wrong plans. Everything seems to be done by call centers or on line, so allow me to describe briefly how they work. First of all you are at your desk for 8 or more hours call after call and told you must take 70 calls a day and are allowed to only be on a call for not longer than 10 minutes. So to keep customer volumes up you must rush through to the contents of a policy that you may think best fits their needs with a scripted you must follow. If the caller asks too many questions you suggest mailing then an application or they can apply on line or call back if they have any other questions. While you are on the phone looking up several option for the customer and navigating through several screens (7 or 8 sometimes) and logging information into the system all at once. You are not allowed to put the customer on hold or call them back, so if the customer is satisfy with you he may not get to talk to you again and would have explain his situation all over again to another repersenitave.

That is just a very few of the rules employee need to follow for the companies and I am sure this applies to several other organizations. Take for instance the big groups that run our doctors' offices. Most are allowed only 10 to 15 minutes with a patient. I mean I could go on and on about rules and guidelines in organizations and I am sure we could all tell our stories. What happen to making our customers happy maybe we all should eliminate some of these rules and slow it all down, and give one another the time we need? I know it's all about the making profits and fast sales. But people are canceling and tired of facade. We are all customers and deserve the best. Remember, don't forget in the end it's all about the work of the mouth.

By the way I will be leaving my company shortly. I do believe in treating all my customers with the utter most respect and receive several compliments thanking me for being patient with them and giving them the time they need.

Willowbrook, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am an independent insurance agent and life marketer. I too was irritated by lack of mention of a single-payer or 'Medicare for all' option on your program, but not for the reasons already pointed out by many. I read your editor's note in response to this issue and agree it was not necessarily the point of this program. However the producers failed miserably in the context that, during the segment on Obama's meeting regarding healthcare, a statement was made to the effect that "all parties were in attendance", This is an outright lie - all but one were there. This administration point-blank refused to consider the single-payer route from day one. Any supporters of the most popular concept with the general public were specifically not invited to attend, including several persons on the grass roots level who have been Obama's staunchest supporters for years. Just like the massive giveaways to the financial sector, the Obama administration is comfortably in the back pockets of their campaign contributors.

Craig Honaker
Jupiter, FL

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posted march 31, 2009

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