Remember the old Star Trek shows where money was not an issue? Society was beyond all that. There were replicators and Science was God. Whatever the scientists wanted, they got. No need to beg the government or anyone else for research money. Illness or injury? No big deal. Except of course for some strange virus the Doc would find a cure for in less than an hour.
Well, we are not there yet. Now when we see a story about researchers being on the verge of some new drug that will stop cell degeneration and promise us eternal middle age if not eternal youth it probably means some drug company had to jack up the price of Granny's meds to pay for the research which may or may not pan out. We reach for the stars, nothing wrong with that...but what about what is happening right now?
I am not a demagogue or a partisan and I do believe that the society that the most people feel they have a stake in is the one most likely to succeed. That is why I am concerned at the debate or lack of it when it comes to health care. Democrats blame Republicans for being greedy and Republicans blame Democrats for giving too much to too many who they feel do not deserve it.
In his Jan. 25th article for Newsweek, Robert Samuelson noted something most people are probably oblivious to: We subsidize employer-paid helath insurance by excluding it from income taxes [the 2006 cost to government: an estimated $126 billion]
Below are some depressing numbers:
National Health Expenditures
1960... 1985... 2003
(in billions of current dollars)
Aggregate spending 27... 427... 1,679
Per capita 143.... 1,765... 5,670
(in billions of constant 2003 dollars)*
Aggregate spending 166... 730... 1,679
Per capita 891... 3,019... 5,670
Share of GDP 5.1%... 10.1%... 15.3%
Source: National Health Expenditures, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary, National Health Statistics Group; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis; and U.S. Bureau of the Census
*Adjusted for changes in the Consumer Price Index for all-Urban Consumers, “all items”
The nation’s spending on medical care has been on an unrelenting upward path for a number of decades. In 1960, aggregate health expenditures in the U.S. totaled $27 billion; in 2003, the figure stood at nearly $1.7 trillion — a 63-fold rise. In contrast, the U.S. population grew by only 51 percent. Health expenditures per capita (or per person) rose from $143 in 1960 to $5,670 in 2003 — a 40-fold rise. General inflation pushed up prices of goods and services in the economy by 5-fold. In contrast, the recorded rise in prices for medical care was 12-fold, driven mostly by increases in hospital charges and doctors’ fees. The overall economic dimensions of the growth have been equally impressive, with the share of the economy devoted to health care tripling over the period, rising from approximately 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1960 to over 15 percent in 2003.
Inflation and the Rise in Health Care Prices
(Percent increase in prices)
Medical care overall 1,232%.... 82%
Medical care services 1,469%.... 88%
Source: Consumer Price Index for All-Urban Consumers, loc. cit.
Consumption of health care by the elderly is larger than for the rest of the population. In 1999, per capita health care spending for the U.S. population as a whole, it was $3,834. For the population under age 65, it was $2,793. For the population age 65 or older, it was $11,089, or nearly four times as high. Even within the aged population, the divergence was significant.
The above stats are from the ASPE Issue Brief.
When the public rejected the idea of Social Security reform in spite of the obvious problems facing the system, I began to wonder if the American public is dedicated enough to free market economics to face the reality of coming change. I would like to see Republicans embrace a policy of reform, competition and deregulation to help deal with the worsening health care crisis, rather than partisan attacks on Democrats or uselss class warfare.
Perhaps it is time we realized that we can not have everything we want. Perhaps we should work on making the basics of health care more affordable and spend less time thinking about science fiction.
Otherwise we baby boomers might find ourselves facing something akin to Logan's Run. Is your crystal flashing? Is it your time to go to the Carousel?
Update: The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education-NIPTE is a collaberation of 11 major universities working to bring down drug prices. At least people are paying attention.