Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Economics of Health Care

At the Democratic National Convention, Senator Ted Kennedy stated that health care is a human right, and in one of the presidential debates, Senator Barack Obama said the same thing. What this means, of course, is that this country needs to put in place a single-payer universal health care system.

“This is a completely understandable view and one that, I think, is utterly wrong,” wrote columnist Robert J. Samuelson in NEWSWEEK on September 15, 2008. Then he went on to say that the problem was not to improve insurance coverage, it was to contain health care costs. He said, “We need more realism on health care. The trouble with casting medical-care as a “right” is that this ignores how open-ended the “right” should be and how fulfilling it might compromise other “rights” and needs.” What he means by this is beyond me: how does saying fulfilling one right affect fulfilling other rights, whatever they may be?

Samuelson does not seem to understand that treating health care as a right—which implies instituting a program of universal health care—is the direct route to containing health care costs. Doing so has the potential to cut health care costs by 30 percent, while at the same time improving health care for Americans. Another columnist, Bernadine Healy writing in the October 13/October 20, 2008, issue of U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, describes various ills of our dysfunctional multi-payer health care system and then says, “Changing our 50-50 blend of private and public spending into a single-payer system clearly is not feasible.” Why not?

Both she and Robert J. Samuelson seem to have preconceived ideas about health care, and they would do well to open their minds far enough to read and accept what another well-known economist and columnist, Paul Krugman, has to say about the economics of health are. In his January 1, 2007, column in The New York Times he said, “The truth is we can afford to cover the uninsured. What we can’t afford is to keep going without a universal health care system.
“If it were up to me, we’d have a Medicare-like system for everyone, paid for by a dedicated tax that for most people would be less than they or their employers currently pay in insurance premiums. This would, at a stroke, cover the uninsured, greatly reduce administrative costs and make it much easier to work on preventive care.”
Paul Krugman just won the Nobel prize in economics, for good reason it would seem. He is a thoughtful man who pays attention to and carefully analyzes factual information. Too bad Robert J. Samuelson and Bernadine don't do the same.

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