By Karl Reiner
The healthcare provided to Americans has gotten increasingly more expensive. During the last 40 years, healthcare costs have risen faster than the economy has grown by about 2.5% per year on average. Although most Americans with health insurance are satisfied with the care they receive, healthcare is now consuming around 16% of America’s GDP, a far higher percentage than in other industrial societies.
For years, elected officials in Washington knew that the constantly rising cost could not be sustained. Last year, the administration and Congress launched a testy attempt at addressing the problem. The politically fractured Congress treated the matter as an exercise in political posturing instead of an issue with serious consequences for the nation’s future. It was another indication that Congress has lost the ability to muster the bipartisan support needed to deal with major issues.
After a year of bickering, the House passed a bill in November designed to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system. As a final act in the political drama, the Democrats in the Senate managed to push their legislation through in December. It will provide affordable insurance to approximately 31 million residents now uninsured. With a price tag of $871 billion over10 years, the bill also contains a variety of crafty features and sweeteners added to attract and hold votes. The legislation is reported to be crafted in a way that will allow it to pay for itself and reduce the federal deficit at the same time.
When Congress comes back into session in mid-January, the House and Senate will hammer out their differences in conference. What emerges from the conference and goes to the President for signing is a yet to be seen piece of legislative handiwork. Legislation of this magnitude will have some unanticipated consequences when implemented. As the problems begin to emerge, the Democrats will get the blame. The Republicans, having opted out of most of the process, will get to toss the political barbs.
What got lost in the blistering political theatrics was the fact that the United States spends more on healthcare per person than any other nation. Despite the high rate of spending, average life expectancy in the U.S. is shorter than in most other industrially developed nations and a number of developing ones. The lack of health insurance is a factor in determining one’s life span. It is estimated to contribute to 45,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.
Other developed nations opted for universal health coverage years ago. It was in the national interest for the government to see to it that the population remained healthy. Depending on the country, the universal care system is administered by public and private insurance programs or a combination of both.
While the U.S. spends around $7,300 per person per year on healthcare, other countries provide care at rates ranging from less than $3,000 to $4,500. While spending less, they have also managed to achieve average life expectancies longer than those found in the U.S. While the various systems have their shortfalls and critics, people are not forced into bankruptcy due to medical costs.
The often heard statement that the U.S. has the best system available is not completely accurate. Around the globe, many other countries have managed to provide health care to their populations. They have not wrecked their social fabric or economies in the process. In the matter of healthcare, much of the rest of the world seems to be able to do the job better.
As the attempt at healthcare reformation rattles on in Washington, it may be time to admit that we are not as unique as we think. It would be a good idea to remember that our national debt limit has been raised to $12.39 trillion. We are a country that strongly emphasizes individual rights over obligations. We tax income instead of consumption. We recently tried to get rich by selling houses to each other at ever higher prices. The result of that enterprise is on the way to becoming known as the cause of a great recession.