Entries in Debt (3)


Greek Debt Crisis Spurring Serious Health Consequences

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(CAMBRIDGE, England) -- Greece’s debt crisis is bringing on dire health consequences that, researchers say, might soon turn into a modern-day Greek tragedy, according to a new study.

The study, published in The Lancet, found that rising unemployment and staggering debt in the past four years have led to serious health issues among the most vulnerable Greeks.

Many Greeks have been unable to get medical care because of hospital budget cuts and staffing problems and, in general, health has worsened since the financial crisis began.

“We noted a significant rise in the prevalence of people reporting that their health was ‘bad” or ‘very bad,’” the authors wrote, led by Cambridge University’s Alexander Kentikelenis.

The number of suicides increased by 17 percent between 2007 and 2009, and the Greek Parliament reported a 25 percent increase between 2009 and 2010.  That number is still rising: the number of suicides was 40 percent higher in the first half of 2011 than during the same period in 2010.

The researchers also expect the number of new HIV infections to increase by 52 percent this year, about half of them among intravenous drug users.  Heroin use, prostitution and unsafe sex practices also increased, but budget cuts have made it difficult for many people to get help from governmental programs.

“Overall, the picture of health in Greece is concerning. It reminds us that, in an effort to finance debts, ordinary people are paying the ultimate price: losing access to care and preventive services, facing higher risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and in the worst cases losing their lives,” the authors wrote.

In the United States, the economic downturn is also taking a toll on the mental health of many Americans.  One recent study found that suicide rates generally rise and fall depending on the economy.

Depression and anxiety have also increased dramatically, according to experts.

“When people began to get anxious or were worried about losing their jobs, it was clear there was an increased number of individuals that presented with anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Mark Rapaport, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University in Atlanta.

Rapaport also said that difficult economic circumstances have made it tough for people to get the care they need.

“One reason is that individuals are losing their health insurance and another one is the cost of health insurance is increasing radically, so a lot of people are electing to have care with very high deductibles, so they are unable or unwilling to seek care,” he said.

Budget cuts, he said, have also decreased access to public programs.

While there are no data yet to suggest that drug use is on the rise, Rapaport said that trend wouldn’t surprise him. “In times of stress, there are many problems,” he said, “so people tend to use coping strategies like using alcohol and drugs.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Want a Lower Medical Bill? Just Ask

Comstock/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- The economy has left millions unemployed and mounting medical costs have put millions in debt. With financial hardships in mind, a new Consumer Reports column suggests ways to become a savvy health care buyer and haggler.

"I have become impressed with how often American households are unable to afford their medical bills and medications, and they're doing various things, like not taking their medications or taking someone else's, because they can't afford them," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center and author of the column.

Because of this, Santa noted that the best time to talk to doctors about medical bills and financial limits is before a patient has incurred any costs.

"It helps to know from folks the degree to which financial issues are a stress for them, especially related to health," Santa said.  "This works best if the physician is aware of this from the start.  If you're struggling to keep your head above water, tell the doctor anything he can do to moderate cost is appreciated."

For many medical conditions, there is a wide range of ways to diagnose and treat the problem and the treatments can vary "enormously" in cost, experts said.

"This recommendation makes sense to me in today's world," said Alan Sager, professor of health policy and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  "In a more reasonable world, of course, all patients would be insured and all would pay the same price for the same care.  And doctors and hospitals would be financially neutral, liberating them to recommend care in light of its clinical value."

When an unexpected exorbitant bill gets handed to a patient, Santa recommends speaking with the doctor who recommended the procedure or treatment to understand why the costs are so high.

And don't ever assume the price on the bill is set in stone.  On average, the hospitals' total charges to patients and insurers are triple the average cost of actually delivering hospital care to the patient, Sager noted.  Uninsured patients are usually charged the highest price, which is the hospital's list price for different treatments and tests.

"That's because no big insurance company or Medicare plan is available to negotiate a lower price," Sager said.  "Hospitals usually offer to discount their initial bill by 10 to 20 percent from those very high charges when the patient simply asks.  That can be offered by the billing or patient accounts department."

For patients hit with an extremely high bill, Sager recommended bypassing the billing department and calling the hospital CEO's office directly.  Explain the problem and ask for help, he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rise in Debt and Obesity Linked, Researchers Say

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(MAINZ, Germany) -- Are you struggling to shed those extra pounds? Or are you -- like our government -- getting deeper in debt?
Well, you're not alone -- and you could be dealing with both.
A new study featured in the Orlando Sentinel shows overeating and overspending go hand-in-hand.
In the last 30 years, both the number of Americans who are obese and those in debt has been soaring.

Just last year, Americans had 2.6 times more debt than they did 30 years ago,  according to data from the Federal Reserve Board. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they were twice as likely to be obese than in 1980.
What's the connection?
Researchers at the University of Mainz in Germany studied more than 9,000 participants and found a correlation between food and shopping. Those deep in debt were more likely to be obese than adults of normal weight. And those who were overweight were twice as likely to be in debt.
Food and shopping offer instant gratification while not having to pay consequences,  at least not immediately.
It seems access to fast, fattening foods and super-sizing fed obesity just as "buy now pay later" and zero interests encouraged overspending.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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