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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

The Health Care Debate: Free, Universal or Market-driven?

Published February 28, 2008 11:42 AM by test test

Daily reports from the campaign trail detail the health care proposals touted by our nation's presidential candidates. But while the contenders quibble about how to make health care more affordable and accessible in this country, governments across the pond have taken action to help reduce health care costs.

Just last year, Wales announced a somewhat controversial plan to provide free prescriptions to nearly 3 million Welsh pharmacy customers, regardless of their income.

Supporters have said the plan will increase access to therapies that treat chronic conditions such as asthma, thereby reducing the cost of preventable hospital visits. Detractors contend that the plan could dramatically increase the country's medical budget and lead to wasted medication.

Other areas have begun investigating similar proposals. Scotland plans to implement a free prescription plan by 2011 and will lower drug costs in the meantime. Meanwhile, charity group Asthma UK is lobbying Northern Ireland and England governments  to provide prescriptions free of charge to people with asthma.

A recent study revealed that drug costs prevented about 800,000 families from properly taking their medication, according to a Feb. 27 Asthma UK news release.

This "means many poorer people with chronic health problems are not getting the treatment they need and are putting their health at risk." Said an umbrella charity organization Citizens Advice Bureau, which commissioned the study.

Is cost the whole picture in asthma management? No.

Research has uncovered many other factors in the disease. Genetics, obesity, and environmental factors all play a role. The evolving profession of asthma education has also increased the understanding of the role patients' cultural backgrounds play in asthma management plans.

And in December, a study revealed a rather telling picture of the patients' role, concluding that patients with asthma would prefer taking fewer medications than having total symptom control. (The study did not consider whether cost played a role in this choice.)

Clearly, more research is need to understand the complex issue of asthma management. However, while political candidates debate the merits of any health care change, it might be worthwhile to ask you, the health care workers, what changes will make a difference.

Click here to see where the candidates stand on key health care issues.

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