Much of my time for the past year has been spent navigating the medical maze on behalf of my mother, who has dementia.
I observe that American health care organizations can no longer operate systematically, so participants are forced to act in the communal mode, as if in the pre-modern world.
Health care is one leading edge of a general breakdown in systematicity—while, at the same time, employing sophisticated systematic technologies.[..]
For complex health care problems, I recommend hiring a consultant to provide administrative (not medical!) guidance.[..]
My mother’s mild dementia began accelerating rapidly a year ago. I’ve been picking up pieces of her life as she drops them. That has grown from a part-time job to a full-time job. In the past month, as she’s developed unrelated serious medical issues, it’s become a way-more-than-full-time job.
The most time-consuming aspect has been coordinating the dozens of different institutions involved in her care. I had read that the biggest failing of the American health care system is its fragmentation; I’ve now spent hundreds of hours observing that first-hand.
There is, in fact, no system. There are systems, but mostly they don’t talk to each other. I have to do that.[..]
This is a stark example of medical cost disease, but the post is not about that. It’s about how institutions fail to talk to each other—and what that implies about our future.[..]
My mother went into the hospital a month ago with severe pain in her hip. (It’s still undiagnosed.) After two days, she was medically ready for discharge from the hospital: whatever the pain was, it wasn’t one they could help with. Instead, she should be sent to a “skilled nursing facility” (SNF) where she’d get “physical therapy,” i.e. leg exercises.
For a SNF to agree to take her, they had to get confirmation from an insurance company that insurance would cover her stay. She has two kinds of health insurance, Medicare plus coverage through a private insurer (Anthem). Which would cover her? Or both, or neither?
SNFs have admissions officers, whose full-time job is to answer this question. Two different SNFs started working on the problem. I talked with the admissions people every day. Both claimed to be working on it more-or-less full-time. The hospital wanted to free up my mother’s bed, so their insurance person was also working on it.
Days passed. The hospital doctor on rounds said “Well, this is typical, especially with Anthem. It’s costing them several thousand dollars a day to keep her here, versus a few hundred dollars a day in a SNF, but it might take a week for them to figure out which local SNF they cover. [..]
It’s like one those post-apocalyptic science fiction novels whose characters hunt wild boars with spears in the ruins of a modern city. Surrounded by machines no one understands any longer, they have reverted to primitive technology.
Except it’s in reverse. Hospitals can still operate modern material technologies (like an MRI) just fine. It’s social technologies that have broken down and reverted to a medieval level.
One of the pervasive ways women are disadvantaged under the ACA is its reliance on employer-based coverage. In the United States, World War II–era wage freezes helped entrench a system of employer-provided health insurance, a perk meant to attract workers in a squeezed labor market
Eventually, Medicare and Medicaid were devised as a safety net for those shut out of private plans, and the ACA expanded that safety net. Still, job-based plans remain the bedrock on which our insurance system is built.
Under this system, it’s harder for women to get health insurance in the first place. The strains of childrearing and elder care make women more likely to seek more flexible employment, like part-time, remote, or freelance work. These forms of employment tend not only to pay less, but are less likely to include health insurance benefits.
Those that do provide inferior ones: companies with majority-female workforces tend to offer less generous health-care coverage than those that are majority male. And less than one-third of low-income workers receive any health insurance through work. Jobs paying at or around the minimum wage are most often occupied by women, the majority of whom are women of color. Trans women face even higher levels of poverty than cis women, and are frequently saddled with impossibly high out of pocket costs.