Save a penny, or a life?

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Latest market trends have instilled fear in healthcare professionals as they see cuts to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, the rising costs of chronic disease, the increase of self-pay receivables and the quick decline of insurance coverage.

A recent survey by the American Society for Echocardiography found that a staggering 90 percent of cardiologists and cardiovascular ultrasound technicians believe the reimbursement cuts could trigger staff reductions, end the practice altogether or force them to stop accepting Medicare patients.

A separate survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association found that one-third of hospital executives reported that the amounts of self-pay receivables have significantly escalated compared to the prior fiscal year. This upsurge has pressed facilities to beef-up collection efforts and increase the number of financial counselors on hand to assist patients.

As cost cutting within the healthcare industry has become a dire concern, research in December’s Diabetes Care reveled that costs associated with diabetes could soar to $336 billion from the current $113 billion by 2034, if modern trends in obesity continue. According to the authors, the current 23.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes is estimated to climb to 44.1 billion in the next 25 years.

In other cardiovascular financial news, Canadian researchers found it might be just as cost effective for the Canadian government to provide—for free—five commonly prescribed heart medications. The underlying message of the research was that patients often will not purchase their medication because of the out-of-pocket costs. The healthcare system incurs further burden when these patients must be hospitalized sooner than later because they did not follow their doctor’s orders regarding taking medication.

How must U.S. healthcare dollars be spent so costs are balanced with the patient's common good? Diabetes is preventive, while heart attack patients struggle to pay for out-of-pocket drug costs. The U.S. must find a balance between cost-cutting vital programs to save money and providing cost-effective and affordable care. The economy has everyone counting their pennies, but should patients and providers suffer unnecessarily?

Cardiologists and cardiovascular technicians have expressed qualms that cuts to cardiology may lead to closed up echocardiography facilities and leave patients in rural areas to restricted access to echocardiography care. How do we diverge from high healthcare costs while still improving patient care? As cuts are dire and figures of patients diagnosed with chronic diseases are on the rise, it must become a balancing act.

On these or other concerns, feel free to send me questions or comments.

Kaitlyn Dmyterko