James Peyer, a venture capitalist, has invested between $2 to $5 million in each of four companies for anti-aging solutions. And he is not alone. Delaying death (indefinitely!) has been one of the biggest fantasies of mankind. But with billions of dollars being spent by VCs and philanthropists in decoding the human body, extending human lifespan by a meaningful amount seems plausible in the very near future. Whatever the outcome, it is easy to bet that life extension treatments are not going to be cheap. Want proof? Gilead is selling a Hepatitis C Virus at $95,000 for a 12-week treatment. The drug has an over 90% cure rate, but the insurers want to ration the drug for early-stage patients. This brings out the stark difference between those who can manage to pay for any medical treatment and those who cannot. Our healthcare is broken, and it is difficult to say if money is the solution or the problem.
Live Case: How Braja’s family is suffering from lack of funds to treat neurofibromatosis
Braja is a 14-year-old boy from Bali, Indonesia with two tumors (one got treated in January). The total treatment cost is $10,000 (which would be easily $100,000 or more in the United States), but the insurance company refused to cover the cost of surgery. The family does not have the $10,000 and, with no option left, the family is now raising funds through GoFundMe.
The family was lucky that it has raised 50% of that amount. But would it be lucky enough to afford the next surgery? And what about millions of Brajas in the developed and developing world who don’t have a GoFundMe page? Charity is not a permanent solution for the healthcare affordability mess.
Two facets of Healthcare: Opportunity & Risk
Wealth has indirectly produced a class system. With such expensive treatments, wealth directly translates into health and has led to the re-emergence of the haves and have-nots. If you can afford a treatment, you deserve to live. Otherwise, you are left to fend for yourself. But people are obviously willing to pay anything to ensure a healthy life for themselves and their family. This indicates an opportunity for a financial solution. There needs to be a structured lending solution for medical treatments, which can alleviate the financial stress and delay the payment of the treatment, spreading it over a longer time period, like a typical loan. Some reports estimate that medical bills are the root cause for over 60% of the bankruptcies in the US. Even if we believe that the number is political rhetoric, there is a massive business and humanitarian opportunity to solve a problem plaguing millions of people around the world.
If the health issues are not addressed timely or in a proper manner, there is a risk of mass protests and violence. If people are not able to save their families from certain death because they are not able to pay up the huge medical charges, you can expect them to resort to crime to ensure they get their money.
Numerous articles have been written, and movies have been made, on this subject, but the societal dysfunction remains. This risk is further exacerbated by the fact that billionaires are investing millions into their health so that they can live forever. This ever-widening gap will certainly manifest into class warfare. Movies like Altered Carbon (where the rich can “resleeve” their consciousness by buying replacement bodies) and Soylent Garden (where a Corporation makes food from human remains) depict a scary future.
How healthcare and its financing impacts us
It is important to understand how healthcare operates in different nations, and even more importantly, how it is funded. Healthcare is usually funded in three ways-
- By Employer
- By Government
- By Individual
These divergent approaches to healthcare help us gain insight into different healthcare models and what can be done to fix them.
There is no universal healthcare system in the United States (like the UK). Obamacare at least made health insurance compulsory (sort of!) for all, but even that is under fire from President Trump. Either employer covers the healthcare costs via insurance and offers them as a fringe benefit or the individual himself buys a health insurance policy. The US government funds two types of health plans:
But if you are not on any insurance plan, which millions of Americans are not, you risk having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Over 12% of Americans do not have any health insurance. There is an increase of 3.2 million uninsured people under President Trump.
The European healthcare style is considered to be the most humane system. Healthcare in Europe is designed with the goal to provide basic health service to all. There are different tweaks as per individual countries. UK has the NHS (National Health Service), where medical treatment is free and the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. There are private hospitals and practices for treatments not covered by NHS or for the super rich who don’t want to wait. Germany has a different model where it is the main health insurer in the country and insurance is compulsory.
Healthcare in Japan is free for citizens, emigrants, and foreigners. A universal healthcare system is followed and all the hospitals are run as nonprofit organizations. For-profit organizations are strictly prohibited from owning medical services companies (hospitals, doctors, etc.)
Under its healthcare system, the government offers to pay 70% of treatment and leaves only a 30% burden on the patients.
Health is top on the wish list of families today. Being rich does not make sense if you can’t enjoy your wealth. A stable, healthy society is necessary to evolve, and there is an urgent requirement to address healthcare. There are multiple models to support healthcare, but it is critical that we first consider humanity and not the financial cost for solving this healthcare crisis.
Written by Heena Dhir.