December 4th, 2008
04:16 PM ET

Extreme Challenges: How Obama should address health care

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

There is no doubt health care will be an extreme challenge, especially with the economy in the tank. A bigger challenge may be a perception one. To remind people the economy and health care reforms are truly linked. After all, we have the most expensive health system in the world, and Americans spend more on health care than housing or food. Here is a number to ponder. The United States spends nearly 500 billion more than peer nations on health care, and we don’t get nearly enough for it.

As a doctor and a parent, I can’t believe we have let ourselves get to this point. Too many people are uninsured, and even more have insurance that is simply inadequate. According to the American Cancer Society, 100,000 Americans will end up in bankruptcy because of a cancer diagnosis. Can you believe that? You are diagnosed with the most devastating medical illness of your lifetime only to be hit with the most devastating financial crisis you will suffer. Yes, the economy and health care are truly linked.

Last month, nearly half of all Americans surveyed reported skipping pills, postponing or canceling medical appointments and generally cutting back on medical care simply due to cost. The uninsured who are injured or who developed a chronic illness were less likely to receive follow up care, which worsened the severity of their condition. So, here is another number: Roughly 22,000 people die each year due to lack of coverage. For sake of reference, the number of people who die annually from homicide in the United States is around 17,000. It would seem being uninsured is a different sort of homicide.

The next administration will be faced with extreme challenges and health care reform has to be front and center. As you may infer, you can’t really fix the economy without addressing health care. Still, this reporter is optimistic we will see some changes over the next few years. Heck, the next administration might even deal with stem cells and obesity to boot.

Programming note: Tune in tonight at 11 pm ET for the program, “Extreme Challenges: President Obama”, to hear Anderson Cooper and the CNN team lay out the challenges facing America’s 44th President and offer some advice.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.