The rising cost of healthcare

Two days ago, I had unusually exerted myself physically about the evening. And at night when I went to sleep I noticed some difficulty with breathing and my throat was congested also. It progressively got worse and worse and my breathing became increasingly difficult. Well past midnight, I noticed that my left arm started to become numb and I had immense thirst. I panicked. I was alone at home. Fearing that I was going to get a heart attack, I somehow managed to get into the hospital that was ‘only’  300 meters away.

I asked for a glass of water and they quickly gave me it.  They attached a small clip-like device to my finger (for checking the oxygen saturation in my blood), checked my BP, and immediately they did an EKG.  Oops.  It came out completely normal. Sinus Rhythm. I had also 99% oxygen saturation.  It was something more related to my gastrointestinal system than my heart.  The doctor, a lady, on duty offered to give me an injection for that.  I refused it (Pantoprazole). The next thing she told me is that I can go back home.  So about 3’O clock in the morning, I started to walk back the short distance from the hospital to the place I live in. I went to work that day.

In early days, though people had a more healthier lifestyle, they used to contract with all sorts of diseases. I am not talking about the very-early-times when plague, leprosy, and TB killed a very large number of people all over the world:  In those days, even the demography of a country was changed by the outbreak of a disease like plague. But, I am taking about a period-of-time that was as recent as twenty or thirty years ago.

In those days also, when someone was contracted with an illness he used to get admitted in a hospital. A laboratory was attached to the hospital.  There was an operation theater also. Like now, some doctors were even trained in the UK and US. But the treatment was not at all expensive. Unless one had to perform a cardiac bypass or a kidney transplant, which they had to do in a big hospital, preferably outside the state, treatment costs were under the realm of common man.

But a lot of things have changed.  Drug prices were gradually decontrolled. Surgeries and procedures that were only done in big hospitals, in big cities, started to be done in an average hospital. Hi-tech diagnostic tests have become commonplace. The aftermath: the high cost of healthcare.

Earlier, to visualize the structures inside the human body an x-ray was the one thing what the doctor needed. Currently, we have CT and MRI scans. Ultrasound scanning which was unheard of before has become routine (since it is comparatively cheaper to CT and MRI). CT or MRI essentially serves the purpose of an x-ray machine.  But with much clarity (resolution).  And the price: cost.  Generally, the clearer the type of scan, the more money the patient has to pay.

Also, people’s changed lifestyle may have contributed to the newer diseases people are getting.  I use a Teflon-coated non-stick pan in my kitchen. In my childhood we did not have Teflon. Nobody had.  What is Teflon? Well — some kind of plastic. Is it safe? After its invention it has been ‘tested’ and found to be safe.  How safe? Nobody knows.  What if Teflon causes some kind of cancer or other ailments? Just because no case has been definitely linked with Teflon-coated-utensil-use with some kind of malady, it does not mean that it is 100% safe. Metals we use to cook food like iron and copper were here for billions of years.  Teflon was invented in the last century.

Teflon, and beverages like Coke, and the preservatives we use on processed food are only recent phenomenon. Certain preservatives and certain ingredients of carbonated-bottled-sugary-water like Coke are alleged to be carcinogens.

Even though we lead a more healthy lifestyle, sooner or later we may get admitted to a hospital for a reason that sometimes be not our fault; like a motor-vehicle-accident or a natural catastrophe. If we need expert treatment (read expensive) there has to be a way to pay these bills. That is where medical insurance comes to our help.  Developed countries have a  healthcare system that is almost fully supported by the insurance companies. Treatment costs are not borne by the individuals.

Following suit, I suppose India is also getting world-class doctors and world-class treatment facilities.  So healthcare is going to get even more expensive. I am planning to take healthcare insurance for myself.  And I do it before I buy my next smartphone.

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