An ounce of prevention

Just after Christmas in 1955, an Ellsworth mother went to the hospital in Bangor for the delivery of her second daughter. In the maternity ward for four days, usual for the time, the birth and hospital stay cost $110 — almost 2 percent of the family’s annual income.

While our health care has dramatically improved during the past 60 years, so have our health care costs. In 2013, total average costs for the birth of a child ranged from $18,000 to $27,866. Families with insurance still have to pay about $3,400 out of pocket.

And saving lives once thought unsavable can be very expensive. Heart surgery, one of the more common surgeries for Americans today, averages out to $62,000 before doctor’s fees. How many of us have that cash or insurance coverage?

Not everyone has health insurance, or appropriate levels of insurance, leaving society at large to cover the financial gap. Otherwise, hospitals will operate in a deficit. For every action, there is an inevitable reaction, financial or otherwise.

Most everyone goes to the hospital expecting to come out “fixed.” Paying attention to getting and staying healthy — what doctors call “preventative care” — is something each of us can do to help reduce individual and societal costs.

Most Maine hospitals operate as nonprofits, assuming large amounts of debt for uncovered or underinsured patients. Relying on donation campaigns and outsized contributions from well-to-do citizens who value strong community health care facilities as much as the rest of us, our hospital business model is under severe stress. Government payments for existing programs are shrinking, while staffing and facility costs increase and delinquent obligations escalate.

With three small hospitals serving Hancock County, the pressure for financial support will only grow as our aging citizenry requires ever-increasing levels of care.

To make sure we still have a local hospital to care for our needs, all users and providers must take an ownership stake in our local hospitals. They must be able to pay their employees, vendors and operating costs.

Sooner or later, we all will need the services of our local hospitals. Good health should start far upstream from the hospital — in our own homes and in the individual decisions we make each day.

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