Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Perspectives on Health Care Costs

Now, I'm a huge fan of the Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, as you may have realized from the fact that I have it listed on my favorite sites tab on the right part of this page. Unlike the usual soundbite junk you find on the other network news, here you get true analysis from the experts. (I did like Peter Jennings, but have stopped watching all the major commercial networks' nightly news broadcasts after he left)

With that plug, on to this discussion Margaret Warner had with Susan Dentzer on health care costs in America. I found myself learning several things I didn't know from watching this segment. Some tidbits ...

  • Overall health spending in the US doubled from 1993 to 2004.
  • In 2004, total health spending accounted for 16% of GDP!
  • New drugs are one of the big cost drivers. A cancer drug like Urbatux extends life for colon cancer patients by at least a few months but it costs $100,000 a year.
  • Considering that the average child growing up today has a 50% chance of diabetes, not to mention other obesity and lifestyle-related ailments, the future health costs are scary! (For more on this statistic, check out my post on Frontline's diet wars)
  • The $1.9 trillion spent on health care represents $6,000 per person (children included). That's 50% more than the next biggest spender, Switzerland. And yet, a National Health Quality report analyzes 44 measures of health quality and says that the quality of healthcare is actually deterioting!
  • We now have 46 million uninsured in the US.

    These are really startling revelations, and are only the tip of the iceberg. Some will see the last bullet and proclaim support for a national health insurance plan. And yet even the current Medicare plan is infeasible, and unless dramatic cuts are made, could seriously endanger US economic prosperity. (All that talk of Social Security privatization, and sane minds were pointing that a Medicare crisis was much more immediate!)

    Richard said...

    Hi Karthik,
    This is a very thoughtful post. I find it mind-boggling that there are so many people without insurance, or who are paying so much for their insurance and/or medical costs, that they are effectively losing their chance at such taken-for-granted things as retirement. I went through cancer without insurance and lost everything but my life--and having to rely on the public health system almost cost me that too.

    How it's possible that a segment of the population that's as large as many countries--who are literally locked in a life and death struggle--to not be heard is beyond me. Those in control of economic policy clearly do not want them to be heard.

    I've written a book about my experiences as an uninsured American that is currently being shopped by an agency and I hope it will get published and make a difference. Feel free to check it out at www.diaryofaroguecell.com . There are links to a guestbook and blog and I'd be very grateful if you'd weigh in with your opinion. I'm hoping to collate the responses into some kind of petition for policy makers.

    Thanks and best regards,
    Richard Day Gore

    Karthik Narayanaswamy said...

    Below are selected excerpts of my comment on Richard's blog, reproduced here so that my readers can chime in with their ideas.

    The big question [in this debate] is what is the solution. Reasonable minds can agree there is a crisis on our hands, but how do we get out of this? I know [Richard is] seeking more activism from the affected masses, but what exactly will [he] be asking for?

    More government support? Given the track record of our government, I can see a lot of money going into "a solution", but have little confidence it won't be siphoned away by a bulging bureaucracy.

    Price controls? Do we really want to restrict the flow of private capital into pharma research - because that's what drug price controls will do.

    I'd like to hear your ideas. I've given this issue some thought, and so far not come up with any convincing solutions.