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Healthcare burden keeps growing

Healthcare challenge: 12 per cent of Bermuda residents have no health insurance and 50 per cent have a chronic condition (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

These are healthcare facts in Bermuda. According to the Government’s Bermuda Health Strategy 2022-2027, in a total population of 63,634 of Bermuda islanders:

• 8,274 (13 per cent) of residents are diabetic — only two countries in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development have a higher rate

• 31,824 (50 per cent) of residents have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, heart, or kidney disease with $29 million spent annually on dialysis, growing demand at 10 per cent each year

• 21,000 (33 per cent) of residents have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol

• About $730 million of Bermuda’s $6.3 billion GDP (2021) is spent on health, equivalent to the third highest among OECD countries.

These are troubling statistics, but the most disturbing fact of all is the number of residents who have minimal or no healthcare provisions.

In total, they represent an estimated 35 per cent of Bermuda’s total population, with approximately 7,360 people, or 12 per cent, uninsured while around 14,700, or 23 per cent, are underinsured, based upon demographics through 2017.

One hopes that this percentage of little to no affordability to healthcare access has not increased in size, but cannot be measured statistically, except anecdotally with Bermuda’s people experiencing possibly the highest cost of living ever.

Healthcare in Bermuda is tied to employment. No job, or a retired minimal pension, becomes financially problematic. If you are already experiencing financial challenges in your household for daily living, then you cannot afford health insurance.

In many instances, then, caring for one’s health takes last place.

Undiscovered, untreated health diseases owing to lack of healthcare access can have serious consequences for individuals, families, and countries.

Routine testing for anaemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, screening exams for breast, ovarian /cervical cancer in women, and corollary physicals for men for colon, testicular and prostate cancer, heart health issues, just to name a few, are vital for family and community wellbeing.

The OECD 2019 (Universal Health Care) UHC Global monitoring report, contains some stark messages:

• The world will need to double health coverage between now and 2030

• Country spending on primary healthcare should increase by at least 1 per cent of gross domestic product

• More people are suffering the consequences of paying for services out of their own pockets than 15 years ago

• 925 million people spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on healthcare, while 200 million people spend more than 25 per of their income

• Impoverishment owing to paying for healthcare increased except among the extremely poor — who cannot afford any healthcare.

Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD at the time, said: “It’s shocking to see a growing proportion of the population struggling to make ends meet because they are paying too much for their own health, even in advanced economies.

“The only places where this is not happening is in countries that invest more and more effectively in health.”

This leads back to an article I wrote for Mother’s Day, May 13, 2023, that addressed the severe consequences of no access or financial affordability to healthcare.

The story concerned Henrietta Lacks, who in 1951 attended Johns Hopkins in Maryland with what was diagnosed as advanced cervical cancer.

In assessing her medical condition, biopsies of suspected tumour cells were extracted for laboratory testing — without her permission or notification to her family — in what was then considered a routine diagnostic medical procedure.

She died shortly after terribly painful and ultimately unsuccessful treatment, leaving five young children, and her grieving husband.

But her cells lived on in a vitro culture, HeLa, named after the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last name. It was an incredible scientific phenomenon (human cells generally survived only a few days) with profound future benefits.

The HeLa cells were initially freely shared (not sold or profited from) by medical researchers at Johns Hopkins. However, companies benefiting from the sharing use of HeLa cells did to sell end products round the world, with a value estimated in billions of dollars.

It was not until 1973, when a scientist called to ask for blood samples to study the genes her children had inherited from her, that the Lacks family learnt that their mother’s cells were, in effect, scattered across the planet.

Some members of the family tried to find more information, or wanted a portion of the profits that companies were earning from research on HeLa cells.

While, they were largely ignored for years, the Lacks family lobbied persistently for their right to be part of the decision-making process in sharing HeLa cells.

Continuing their quest for justice and reparations, the family filed a civil lawsuit against ThermoFisher Scientific, the “world leader in serving science, with annual revenue of approximately $40 billion”. Arguing the biotechnology company has made millions in “unjust enrichment”, the Lacks took the case before a federal judge in Baltimore on May 17, 2022, to awaiting a ruling to go to trial.

On Tuesday, which would have been Ms Lacks’s 103rd birthday, some of her descendants gathered at a news conference after reaching a settlement with ThermoFisher Scientific.

A grandson, Alfred Lacks Carter Jr, said, “it could not have been a more fitting day for her to have justice and for her family to have relief”.

Martha Harris Myron is a native Bermuda islander with US connections, a presenter, author, finance columnist, YouTube creator and a former international financial planner with a Master of Laws in International Taxation and Financial services. For further information contact: martha.myron@gmail.com

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Published August 12, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 14, 2023 at 1:10 pm)

Healthcare burden keeps growing

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