My mother’s father, Edward McGrath, was known to us kids as Grandpa McGrath. When I was young, he and my Grandma McGrath lived on the third floor in a multi-unit building on Sacramento Ave. near Marquette Park in Chicago. On visits to their apartment, several rituals were always honored. Grandpa McGrath lined up all the grandchildren by age and handed out coins whose value depended on our ages. Grandma McGrath made our family’s favorite dinners, including her delectable banana cream pie. After dinner, we all played round after round of cards, usually poker. 

My grandparents really enjoyed my grandma’s pies and ate them often. Unfortunately for Grandpa McGrath, this enjoyment likely brought on his type 2 diabetes. He treated that disease with shots of insulin that he administered to himself. Grandpa McGrath was usually not one for formality or appearances. Heck, this is a man who identified people depicted in photographs by writing their names right on their foreheads! 

So, it was no surprise that my Grandpa McGrath administered his insulin right in front of me. I was about six years old at the time and this “medical procedure” fascinated me. Unlike other areas in his life, Grandpa McGrath was careful and precise when giving himself these shots. He carefully dispensed the correct amount of insulin into the syringe and then gently shot the medicine into his stomach. 

When Grandpa McGrath finished using the syringe, he broke the needle in half and threw the parts away in two separate trash bags. He said he broke the needles to prevent drug addicts from finding the needles in the alley garbage and using them to shoot up street drugs. Grandpa fashioned himself as the neighborhood drug czar.

Insulin was not the only medicine that my grandparents required. Both grandparents needed several prescription drugs and visited the doctor’s office often. However, I never remember them complaining about the high cost of health care. Unfortunately, today many seniors feel differently. High healthcare costs are a major topic of conversation for seniors and many other Americans. Have healthcare costs changed a great deal since the 1970s or was I just unaware of those conversations as a child? If costs have changed, why?

In 1960 national health care expenditure totaled $27.2 billion. In 2020, these costs grew to $4.1 trillion. Now health care is one of our country’s largest expenses. An annual health care cost of $12,530 per person in 2020 was roughly $150 per person in 1960. Unfortunately, despite all that spending, life expectancy in the U.S is shorter than in our peer countries. And many Americans struggle to pay for health care.

There are many reasons for this uptick in costs. Wider use of Medicaid, Medicare, and healthcare insurance have increased the demand for healthcare. Thus, higher demand is followed by higher prices. Unlike other countries, the U.S. government has not set limits on payments for new treatments. One study found that Americans use the same amount of healthcare as residents of other nations. We just pay more for them.

The health care system has gotten more complicated. Studies have found that administration makes up about 15% to 30% of U.S. healthcare costs. Also, insurance companies and hospitals have become more consolidated and more powerful. Thus, raising insurance premiums.

Sadly, Americans typically pay almost twice as much for pharmaceutical drugs as people in other industrialized countries. Until January 1, 2023, when government legislation capped the price of a vial of insulin, what my Grandpa McGrath paid $9 for in 1972 increased to an all-time high of $107 in 2018. Today, thanks to a new law, that cost is back down to $38 a vial. 

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, are another reason for high healthcare costs. These illnesses are expensive and difficult to treat. There is some hope for chronic care costs. Chronic care management programs are on the rise. These programs help to address the ongoing care needs of chronic care patients and lower total care costs. Plus, there is an increased awareness that changes in one’s lifestyle and diet may work to improve health, reduce the need for expensive treatment, and stop driving up the nation’s health care costs.

The more we Americans are educated about our healthcare and its complexities, the better choices we can make for ourselves and our families. Similarly, the more education we receive about estate planning, the better we will be in setting things up correctly for ourselves and our families.

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