The Cost of Universal Health Care
The debate rages on among the presidential candidates as to whose health care plan is more practical and affordable – and, therefore, ultimately more universal. Meanwhile, Massachusetts already has a universal health care plan – and its costs keep going up. To control insurance expenditures that have been escalating since the universal coverage went into effect in the state, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray has proposed cost-control measures such as having an annual public hearing with health care providers to examine what’s driving up costs; requiring all medical practices to put their records online to reduce error; and prohibiting drug companies from trying to win business by giving gifts to doctors.
Considering that the state governor has allocated a 40 percent increase in the fiscal 2009 budget to cover the increasing cost of subsidizing insurance for low-income residents, something clearly does need to be done. And figuring out what will work is important for all of us, since the political heat is on to institute some form of a national health policy, which undoubtedly will result in similar escalating costs -- but on a larger scale. And unfortunately, I don’t think cutting gifts to physicians will do the trick.
As I wrote back on 12/17/2007, the problem with health care costs boils down to simple demographics. How can any health-care system survive one third of its population living for 20-30 years with self-inflicted diseases such as severe diabetes, let alone the other half suffering from cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, and MS? There isn't enough money in the world to cover it. For instance, dollars spent on diabetes alone increased 32 percent in the five years between 2002 and 2007, up to $174 billion annually in the US. And according to the CDC, the incidence of diabetes is increasing at a rate of five percent a year. Imagine what the costs will be 10 years from now, adding new cases to those already living with the condition!
And then there’s back care, with associated medical expenses rising 65% between 1997 and 2005 to about $86 billion a year, and cancer care, which saw $209 billion in total expenditures in 2005 alone. How many people exercise regularly to strengthen their core muscles for back support – and stretch their spines regularly to minimize disc compression?) And as for cancer, which is fundamentally a disease of the immune system, who’s going to pay for the estimated increase in cases from 42.5 million in 2005 to almost 70 million by 2030, as people continue to live lifestyles that downgrade their immune systems?
Costs at these levels aren’t sustainable by any economy, and tinkering with details in the system is like offering evaporative coolers to people in Hell. The bottom line is that the only way that health care can survive -- the only way you can survive -- is if you take back control of your health. You need to start doing those things that allow your body to stay healthy without the need for health care. The only way to save health care is for people to stop using it for self-inflicted illness.