The premise of the Affordable Care Act is that extending health insurance to all Americans would reduce the overall cost of healthcare. It may seem counter-intuitive, but its true.
Why can that work? Simple. The key principle is:
The cost of catching and treating a problem early is a very small fraction of the cost of treating it in an advanced stage.
Take colon cancer, as an example. The cost of a colonoscopy is around $3,000, and that can include removal of precancerous polyps. In 2005, the cost of treating a full case of colorectal cancer could reach $37,000. However, new drugs approved by the FDA have annual costs of over $100,000 each. According to one analyst, the patient now could be looking at $250,000 just in drug costs.
If the patient’s insurance is a straight copay with no cap on drug expenses, the patient could be looking at $50,000 out of pocket after insurance. Patients without insurance are in trouble. One person I know on receiving a cancer diagnosis, shot himself. In fact we are seeing a surge in both bankruptcies and suicides among 50 and 60 year old Americans since 2000. The US is the only developed country in which the life expectancy for lower income individuals is decreasing.
From a societal standpoint, what’s better — paying screening costs of $3000 or treatment costs of $250,000 or more? Now you might say, OK, not everyone gets cancer. True, but 50% of American males and 35% of females get cancer, and the rates are higher among minorities. Of course if you’re content to let people die at younger ages . . . .
Back to Affordable Care. The CDC reported today that for 2011-2012, only 28% of persons who should have been screened for colorectal cancer actually had the test. That’s way too low. The hope is with ACA that the percentage getting this test would increase dramatically.
Now that more people can afford the test, they need to go do it.
No one benefits if they don’t get the test done.