Health Care Reform: What's in It for Patients?

"One thing that is clear is that if nothing is done, consumers will see much more expensive health care in the future," said Timothy Jost, professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law. "The [Congressional Budget Office] has projected that if we do nothing, health care costs will grow from 17 percent of GDP in 2007 to 25 percent in 2025 to 49 percent in 2082. If we do nothing, more and more Americans will also be uninsured."

Feder agreed. "What we're seeing is that nobody wins from today's system. People are left hanging, their illnesses go untreated."

Patients as Health Care Stakeholders

But just as insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, hospitals and doctors must take steps toward increasing efficiency and cost savings, health policy experts say patients, too, must make an effort to reduce their own health costs wherever possible -- and this means a healthier overall lifestyle.

Patients May Hold Health in Own Hands

"The government cannot and should not guarantee my personal health status; my employer cannot, and my physician cannot," said Jay Wolfson, professor of Public Health and Medicine at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "Only I can, for the greater part, through a combination of attentive, responsible lifestyle issues associated with diet. ... exercise, [and] personal habits."

Rohak agreed that in any plan that would benefit the health care system as a whole, the patient is a crucial part.

"We believe that if we are going to improve the health care system, the patient has to be making more informed choices than they currently are," Rohak said. "Some of the health care costs that are incurred by physicians, hospitals and insurance companies are under our control, but some of the costs are determined by the choices that patients make."

He said that the AMA is already hoping to address this need with a new Web site to help consumers address four behaviors that contribute to almost 50 percent of health care costs -- poor nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use and risky use of alcohol.

As for Keen, she is thankful that her physical health has improved, even if her financial status is still in recovery from her experience.

"My health is good now, I'm getting better, so I'm very encouraged," Keen said. "I am a survivor; I am not going to let this ruin my life.

"I lost my house, but that's OK."

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