The Trends in Healthcare Spending Are Scary, Folks…
This has to be just about the best article on health care costs I’ve ever read. (And the venue? The New Yorker, of course.)
But as incisive as it is, with as many hopeful solutions as it offers, I always worry that the underlying situation is even darker.
There are lots of things that people think are worth spending their money on. But all of them are, rather obviously, dependent on being alive to enjoy them. Most people consider human life to be is priceless, and most people and their loved ones would, if they could, pay almost anything to extend a life just a little further, were it possible. The economic saving grace throughout most of human history, however, has been that it wasn’t possible: there was really only so much that medicine could do and everyone knew it. Some treatments could improve quality of life a little, some could save some lives in some situations. And yet, even with that check on the growth of medical spending, plenty of people spent and still spend huge sums on treatments that have, at best, minimal effectiveness.
But we’re increasingly living in an age when nearly every aspect of human health can be treated and improved in some manner or another. Where there’s fewer and fewer realistic limits on what more and more money spent on health interventions can actually accomplish. So it’s really no surprise that the amount of money people demand get spent on health care has increased over time.
And that, unfortunately, is something that could drive the costs of any healthcare system, whether socialized or privatized, way out of control, no matter how many cost-saving approaches we find or how much we try to focus on preventative care (which might well reduce costly treatments on the front end, but only so that people can live long enough to need even more of them later on). At some point, the percentage of a nation’s income spent on healthcare is going to be unsustainable, crowding out other economic activity. And when that time comes, either people are going to need to put a realistically finite price on good health and long life, or insurance systems are going have to do it for them. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.