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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Friday, October 5, 2012

The Seven Things We Learned From Escape Fire

We hope you make time to see the documentary, Escape Fire, which premiered tonight in cities across the US. Thank you to those of who joined us for the Chicago screening and lively discussion afterwards.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the film tackles the American healthcare system, a subject that carries with it decades of debate and misinformation.

Recent media attention has focused on partisan politics, rather than what is broken in the system and how best to move forward. There is wide agreement that something has to be done, but until now there hasn’t been a unbiased lens to view the problem. Escape Fire finally provides that lens. The film “seeks to explore possibilities to create a sustainable system for the future and to dispel misinformation in order to create a clear and comprehensive look at healthcare in America."

Below are the seven things or “big ideas” about the American health care system captured by this film. Many of these things you may have already heard about or experienced yourself; however, seeing them packaged in 90 minutes of intense storytelling through the eyes of patients, providers, the military and business leaders makes the messages hit home loud and clear.

After you see the movie, tell us what you think. What did you learn about health and healthcare? What new questions came up for you as you watched? What changes in attitude or behavior are being sparked and inspired by the film? What can you do now or in the future to make a difference in your own health and healthcare as well as the health and healthcare of those around you? Drop us a line at info@illinoishealthmatters.org and let us know!

Barbara Otto, CEO

Health & Disability Advocates

Seven Things


The average per capita cost of healthcare in the developed world is $3,000. In the U.S., it’s around $8,000. As a country, we spend about $2.7 trillion on healthcare annually, and about one-third of healthcare costs, roughly $700 billion, do not improve health outcomes. In fact, for the first time in the history of our country, life expectancy is going down for many disadvantaged Americans. The high price of healthcare affects all of us, even if we’re already covered by health insurance. As costs spiral out of control, individuals are the ones who make up the difference, be it through higher premiums or taxes. The first step in changing the system is understanding that the current model is unsustainable.


Most doctors only have time for quick fixes, for putting Band-Aids on the problem. We need the healthcare system to provide incentives for leading healthier lifestyles, changing our diets, and being open to holistic methods of healing that can address the body and the mind — in other words, the whole person.


Roughly 75% of healthcare spending goes to treating preventable diseases. That’s a lot of unnecessary money and a lot of unnecessary illnesses. For too long, the American healthcare system has emphasized tests, screening, and awareness of disease. While these practices
might lead to earlier detection, they’re no match for true disease prevention. We don’t have to wait for disease to set in to live healthier lives. If we can make fresh food as cheap as processed food, and if we can live more active lives, we can curb disease before it ever has a chance to strike. But we need support: from our workplaces, from our communities, and from our healthcare system.


We spend $300 billion on pharmaceutical drugs. That’s almost as much as the rest of the world’s medicine spending combined. Prescription drugs play a vital role in helping patients who need them; however, too many drugs are being marketed to patients who don’t need them, leading to situations where the drug has the potential to do more harm than good. The military recognizes the problem, and they’re trying to wean soldiers off their drugs by putting more emphasis on alternative approaches: physical therapy, exercise, yoga, and meditation. They are preaching patient-centered care that better meets the needs of injured veterans.


For patients, “more” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” When it comes to our health, recent studies show that “more” can actually mean “worse.” The reason? Any time we go into a hospital, we take on risk. Medical errors do happen. Harmful drug interactions do occur, especially when so many doctors and nurses are giving you care. A recent study showed that as many as 187,000 people a year
die from medical error or hospital-related illness. If that were an official cause of death, it would be the third largest killer in the U.S.


Pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and insurance companies are profiting from our declining health. Some of the $2.7 trillion dollars we spend on healthcare every year goes to supporting lobbyists and politicians in Washington who maintain business as usual. To get back on track, we need to remember that healthcare is about more than just making money. It’s about making Americans healthier.


“When you reward physicians for doing procedures instead of talking to patients, that’s what they’re going to do - procedures.”
- Dr. Leslie Cho, Cardiologist, Cleveland Clinic 

In general, the system rewards higher-tech, higher-cost procedures over low-cost, high-touch treatments. Primary care physicians aren’t paid to have long conversations about nutritional counseling or exercise regimens. Most alternative therapies aren’t covered. We need to shift payment to reward everyone in the system for providing the right kind of care rather than more of the wrong kind of care. If we can start reimbursing doctors and hospitals to keep patients healthy or, better yet, keep Americans from ever becoming patients, then we’ll see a rapid change in the way we give care.

[These "Seven Things" were adapted from the Escape Fire Screening & Discussion Guide. You can use this guide to hold your own screening - at your workplace, in your community, in your schools or at home.]


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