Q: What effects do you think current political discussions are having on the subject of elder care in America?
A: As a country, we are discussing senior health care issues, and while it’s good to have that discussion, it’s discouraging that we’re not coming to any agreement.
In my opinion, the problem is too far along to expect that it will be solved by just cutting spending or just raising taxes. We need to do both. We have the largest generation of Americans retiring over the next 20 years. The size of the workforce that is going to replace those retiring workers is smaller than it has been in a past.
That’s a problem because the Medicare fund is supported by the workforce. There will not be enough workers paying into the system to keep it solvent under its current payout plan. We’re going to have to pay more, and we’re going to have to cut out the waste. We have to come together and make sacrifices on both ends.
Q: You write about bad habits that increase health care costs. What are they, and how are they hurting senior care?
A: Most Americans don’t eat right or properly take care of themselves. That’s a big problem. Also in general, we don’t save enough, and we don’t ask how much routine tests and doctor visits cost. Most people won’t go through a drive-thru to buy a hamburger without checking the price, and yet too often people go to the doctor’s office and don’t ask questions about the cost of treatments and procedures … especially if they have insurance.
We should be able to compare costs and decide for ourselves if the differences in prices for the same procedure are a premium for a level of expertise or an office location. We should make sure that patients are getting the best price for the procedures they need, even if they have insurance.
Q: You talk about a greater need for health care providers to be more transparent when it comes to health care costs. What do you think needs to be done to ensure more transparency?
A: We should know how much your doctor’s visit cost, and not just the co-pay. We should question whether a procedure is really needed. I’m not discouraging people from getting the procedures they need, I just want to encourage everyone to ask the important questions.
I once asked a health care provider who books appointments how much their service cost. Her response was a question: “Do you have insurance?” When I said yes, the provider said, “OK then, you are covered.” I told her that it wasn’t just about having insurance. I had deductibles and co-pays to consider as well. So, I needed to know what they charged because I have to pay a percentage of the costs.
The provider didn’t even know the price. I eventually got an answer but not immediately. These are the questions we need to keep asking. I don’t think that we’ll get our health care spending under control, as a country or individually, if we do not even know how much our health care service really costs.
Something that is helping transparency are Walgreen’s and CVS walk-in clinics. These stores list the prices for medical services like flu shots. Those price lists help encourage consumers to ask their health care provider for his/her prices. So, that moves the industry forward regarding transparency.
Q: What’s your top advice for people when it comes to taking control of their health care?
A: I encourage those in my age group to start thinking about their current health issues and how their health may affect their care needs in the future.
For example, if someone is a diabetic at age 42 or has high blood pressure in her mid-30s, those problems could get worse as you age. So, ask yourself, am I going to be in a position to maintain my health in the long term? Can I continue to afford the care I’ll need and my current lifestyle?
And then think of those same issues regarding your parents. Start planning now. Talk to your doctor about how a disease like diabetes will affect you or a parent as they age. Start identifying potential living arrangements and caregivers now. You may need them sooner than you think.
Cynthia Wilson’s book, Who Will Take Care of Mom: A Guide for Family-Managed Senior Care, is available at Amazon.com. Wilson’s blog, Mother’s Keeper, has lots more information.