Agents of Change for Health Care Reform: School Leaders Need to Play a Larger Role in the Health Care Reform Discussion to Ensure That Healthier Families Send Healthier Kids to School

Article excerpt

It is widely recognized throughout the health care industry that the United States leads the world in health care spending per capita. As consumers, we typically tend to justify that cost, subscribing to the logic that a higher price tag is synonymous with the word "better." If we're paying more for health care, we must be getting more for it.

We even go one step further, accepting the argument that other western nations operating under the failed ideology of "socialized medicine" simply cannot provide the variety of advanced services or the superior level of care that we receive here. In a world where you get what you pay for, no one wants to gamble with his or her own health.

The chilling dose of reality for American health care consumers is that for all of our spending, the World Health Organization ranks our health care system 37th in overall performance--right between Costa Rica and Slovenia. The Institute of Medicine further reports that there are 98,000 deaths in the United States every year due to medical error, and patients are treated according to clinical guidelines only 50 percent of the time.

Health care industry proponents note that an over-utilization of services, runaway class-action lawsuits and an increased demand for the highest quality medical treatments--which in turn require a comparable level of research and development for new procedures and prescription drugs--are all contributing factors that drive up the costs of insurance premiums, co-payments and overall care.

Advocates for health care consumers, on the other hand, point to the apparent price gouging of major pharmaceutical companies, the consolidation of a privatized health care industry and a general lack of accountability for hospitals, insurance plans and for our health care system as a whole. The results are poor outcomes and a 30 percent administrative overhead.

Regardless of where we as individuals stand regarding this broad range of complex and seemingly contradictory data, the clear and unfortunate consequences are those faced by Americans who have health insurance and those who don't. Between 2000 and 2004, insurance company profits skyrocketed 234 percent; the number employers offering health care coverage between 2000 and 2005 dropped 9 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

During that time, the average combined employer and employee health care expenditures for a family of four increased by about $1,000 per year. The U.S. census reported that as of 2005, approximately 46.6 million Americans, or nearly 16 percent of our total population, was without health insurance coverage.

We rank 36th in infant mortality, and in California, where 800,000 children are without even the most basic form of health insurance coverage, our state could cut that number in half if it enrolled all children who are currently eligible for our Healthy Families Program.

The prognosis is no better for our public school system. California's Department of Education reports that health and welfare expenditures by K-12 schools increased $1.3 billion between 1998-99 and 2002-03. Annual double-digit increases in health care premiums place administrators in the precarious position of either raiding the general fund budget, passing the cost along to employees or choosing some derivation thereof.

Costs of a fractured health care system

A fractured health care system adds to the amount of administrative time spent negotiating with and on behalf of employees, compounds the effects of school site nursing shortages, commits further staff hours to referring students for enrollment in the Healthy Families Program and generally contributes to the factors that continue to drain public education of sparse resources.

There should be further cause for concern in our lowest-decile school districts when school budgets are directly linked to the attendance and scores of our poorest students, who may be least likely to have insurance coverage at home. …