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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

On the Third Hand: “There is No Time, Brother”

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Unemployed, uninsured people may have a fair amount of time (between all of the under-the-table jobs they take to support themselves), but employed people with commercial health coverage often have no such thing.

Early in the recession, American employers in areas moderately affected by the slump let go of the toxic workers who were actually reducing the other employees’ productivity.

About a year or so ago, employers seemed to get more serious about laying off workers who were nice enough but not all that productive.

The employees who are left are frantically busy.

Several dual-income-family parents admitted to me recently that they are regularly putting young children to bed around 10 p.m. because, otherwise, they would never see the children.

The surviving workers are doing the work that two or three workers used to do, and, in many cases, they are classified as professionals who are exempt from overtime laws. Or, they may be eligible for overtime but never dream of trying to ask for overtime because they have been told to do their work during normal business hours, even though there is no real possibility for them to do so.

Workers take on tasks such as sifting through, reading and answering e-mail without anyone giving serious thought to how much time those tasks take.

Workers who formerly were not actively involved in marketing or tech support may also end up working as social media promoters and e-mail system managers in their “spare time,” because there seems to be an assumption that those tasks can be done instantaneously.

All of that time spent on instantaneous tasks is adding up.

Even today, despite the tough job market, about 40% of Americans say finding time to relax is even harder than living within their budgets, according to Princess Cruises, Santa Clarita, Calif., a unit of Carnival Corp. & P.L.C., London.

Princess Cruises commissioned a survey of about 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older in July and found that about 74% believe an inability to relax frequently hurts their mental and physical health.

One result: At insurance industry conferences where the speakers are on the podium talking about wellness and efforts to promote healthy eating, many of the high-level, intelligent, well-educated, generally self-disciplined executives in the audience are fat. Even some of the speakers on the podium talking about fighting obesity are fat.

One reason may be that factors such as genetics and other factors we are just beginning to understand affect hunger levels, but another reason may be that exhaustion is the best sauce for the bag of stale corn chips and orange soda in a hotel room mini bar refrigerator.

In some cases, workers who have what, on paper, may be generous vacation allotments may not have the actual time to use any of that time off on anything other than dire family emergencies or the like.

And, of course, the health care system as a whole is now heavily into rationing all types of non-obviously emergency care by making office appointments available only in offices 20 miles away, on the fifth Friday of a month, to patients who can name the capitals of all 50 states.

Apparently, the problem is even worse in states like Massachusetts, where health reform program designers have tried to reduce the cost of care by using design features that lead demand to outstrip supply.

If insurers, employers and others are serious about wellness, they might be wise to make sure they are really giving workers the time needed to be well, and not just making a show of offering work-life balance on paper.

Society also needs to supply enough medical provider capacity to make sure that patients get needed care sometime before the Sun reaches the red giant phase. Otherwise, the promises of care not actually delivered will lead to cynicism.


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