The priority is prevention
If the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” were true, most everyone would be planting apple trees. Sadly, staying healthy is a lot harder. And the troubling news that funding for critical health and human services programs will likely be cut from state budgets across the country, including New Hampshire, is a stark reminder that our current health-care system is structured to focus on the treatment of the sickest and not the prevention and promotion of a healthy lifestyle.
As a physician who has had the privilege of caring for cancer patients in New Hampshire for 30 years, I have seen firsthand the issue of health-care access through the eyes of cancer patients, survivors and loved ones. But the message is the same regardless of the diagnosis. Cancer and many other illnesses can be prevented or treated easily if caught at an early stage. However, millions of Americans with inadequate insurance or no insurance at all don’t have access to life-saving screenings and treatments and many are going deep into debt to pay for care they desperately need but can’t afford.
The statistics across the country are grim and New Hampshire is no different: one in eight non-elderly people are uninsured; between 2000 and 2006, almost 400 uninsured working-age adults from New Hampshire died because they were uninsured.
Imagine what the statistics could look like in our state and across our country as unemployment is rising, employer-sponsored health insurance is shrinking and more parents are having difficulties purchasing health insurance for themselves and their children.
Then imagine the suffering.
People who are uninsured or under-insured — those with significant co-pay fees and high deductibles that make routine and preventative health care cost-prohibitive — delay seeking care. Research confirms that the lack of insurance, or insufficient insurance, directly impacts cancer outcomes. In my own practice, we are seeing more women skipping their yearly mammograms because of finances. We are seeing more women who are uninsured or underinsured, and it is just a matter of time before we see the impact on early detection rates.
It is ironic that while we are trying to reign in the increasing costs of our national health-care system, access to evidence-based prevention services and programs, which have been directly related to health-care cost savings, are being slashed from state budgets across the country. All stakeholders in national health-care debates should support expansion of prevention research that is focused on better means of detecting, screening and preventing disease.
We need to advocate for comprehensive health-care reform that will ensure access to adequate, affordable and quality health care for New Hampshire residents and all Americans.
Difficult times call for difficult decisions, and while there are many competing priorities to consider, optimizing the health and well-being of all Americans should be at the top of the list.
Dr. Edward Dalton practices in Manchester at the Elliot Breast Health Center.