Health Care Blues

I have been wanting to write something about President Obama’s health care plan, but have been having trouble getting all my thoughts in order.  I know:

  • Government spending on health care in this country (at all levels) per capita is slightly higher than in countries with ‘socialized medicine.’
  • Private spending on health care in the US is about the same per capita as public spending, so we collectively spend a little more than twice as much on health care.
  • In countries with socialized medicine, there are often shortages of doctors, and waiting lists for specialized treatments.  And sometimes people die from not having receive treatments that would be more readily available in the US.
  • On the other hand, on general measures of public health, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, and obesity, the US is behind other countries with socialized medicine.
  • The US is the fount of medical innovation in the world, chiefly because someone who comes up with a good idea can turn a profit from it.
  • People in the US go bankrupt every day from the cost of health care.  An extended illness or cancer can easily wipe out an individual’s savings.  Insurance can help, but often has its own limitations and horror stories.
  • The cost of health care is going up rapidly, much faster than the general rate of inflation.  My health insurance premium went up 20% this year, and that’s consistent with past years.  Back when I was an employee, my company would moan every year about how the price if insurance had gone up, and that they would absorb most of the cost, but our co-pays would have to go up.
  • Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly, tries to limit its costs by setting rates at which it will reimburse for services, but does not try to limit the services themselves.  This is called ‘not getting between the doctor and the patient.’

Some first thoughts:

  • If the cost of health care continues to go up, it will upend not only the government’s budget, but everyone else’s as well.
  • It would be tempting to believe that we could somehow ‘cut the waste’ and magically reduce the cost of health care without actually reducing the care that is delivered.  Perhaps we can trim a few percent, but not enough to solve the problem.
  • It’s one matter for the government to take measures to control its own costs.  That’s entirely reasonable.  It’s quite another for the government to try to solve everyone’s cost problem.
  • It would be spectacularly bad for the government to do something that would kill the innovative, capitalist component of health care.

More to follow….

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