Recently I received an email from someone I had thought to be an old friend. She is a doctor at a prominent children’s hospital in the Midwest. She ripped into me for writing and talking on television about chronic conditions while she is faced with telling parents their child is going to die of terminal cancer. I do not envy her that job, though she must think I am playing ping-pong.
To suggest the issue of chronic illness rests somewhere at the end of the line is preposterous. Chronic conditions are reaching pandemic proportions in America. These are incurable diseases, and as we are able to live longer with them, Americans are breaking the health care system.
When I wrote my second book, Strong at the Broken Places, charting the lives of individuals with serious chronic diseases, I kept close tabs on the statistics. In2008, according to the CDC, ninety million Americans had a chronic sickness. Today, only five years later, 133 million Americans live with at least one chronic condition. That is perilously close to half the population. Here is what that means.
About seventy-five cents of the healthcare dollar goes to treat a chronic illness. By 2020, the number of chronically sick citizens is projected to grow to an estimated 157 million, with 81 million having multiple conditions. Reduced to its simplest, we are screwed. Each year, 7 out of 10 deaths in the U.S. are due to chronic diseases. Heart disease, many cancers and stroke.
Our fabulous politicians have reduced the issue to a numbing set of numbers. When the healthcare issue was discussed and debated in presidential campaigns, the content seemed to come out of actuarial tables. The human cost was largely ignored. Policy wonks do not know from people.
Guess what? This is all about you and me, our parents and children, friends and neighbors, cronies and colleagues. That would be a lot of flesh and blood, not just numbers for Paul Ryan to throw around. This is us, and I am not sure we know it. We have to do something about this. Now the administration wants to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and resources keep getting thinner. Let’s stop killing and begin saving lives. If we leave that godforsaken place, we can afford to put medical research back on the map. Our children and theirs will thank us when their lives are saved by what might not have been if we had not come home.
And to my friend in scrubs, I suggest you go back to medical school for a refresher course.