May 022010
 
Authors: Ian Bezek

A new report from the Health and Human Services Department found that the latest health care bill will cost roughly $311 billion over the next 10 years, rather than saving money.

President Barack Obama kept telling us that his reform would “bend the cost curve” to slow the dramatic increase in health care costs.

Tossing aside the jargon, it seems that Obama was suggesting that his reform would lower costs over time, which was, clearly, wrong.

It’s also likely to end up costing more than $311 billion, as many of the cuts to Medicare are likely to be unpopular and perhaps even illegal.

It was a laughable idea to think that we could both extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and save money. Quality of coverage would nosedive if we cut costs while extending coverage to more Americans.

As it turns out, we will be spending more for additional coverage. Any economist could have told you that. Also, the cuts to Medicare will cost many seniors good coverage; the report estimates that half of all seniors currently using Medicare Advantage will drop out due to the rising premiums.

The report also estimates that 14 million Americans will lose employer coverage by 2019 as many employers drop health coverage. Additionally, the new taxes of medical devices makers are likely, according to the report, to be passed along to consumers, raising the cost of all sorts of needed medical equipment such as orthopedics or wheelchairs.

While we did indeed get health care reform, the net number of Americans who actually gain meaningful coverage from this bill is probably low, and many seniors will suffer a sharp decline in the quality of their Medicare coverage due to sharp Medicare cuts.

And one thing is for sure, costs will keep rising, and employers and the federal government will keep paying more and more with every passing year to provide health coverage.

This health care reform profoundly failed to “bend the cost curve” of spiraling health care costs.

What would real reform look like that could contain costs? Let’s get a popular one out of the way. Many Republicans view tort reform as the panacea to our health care issues.

Tort reform would make it harder to sue doctors for malpractice when they make mistakes. Supposedly health care lawsuits are causing exploding health care costs. But the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that tort reform will only save between $6 billion to $7 billion a year. That’s a nice chunk of change, but no cure-all.

Others have suggested that we go after the drug companies; either by raising taxes on them or by reforming patent laws to allow more generics to reach the market. But drugs make up less than one-tenth of total health care costs in America, and most of the dollars we spend on pharmaceutical drugs are recycled into research and development and testing of new drugs.

Many other ideas have been floated, but they lack the scope to solve the problem. We can save a few dollars here and there, but these piecemeal suggestions miss the point.

The fundamental problem with our health care system is us –– and our unhealthy ways. Americans are getting fatter and lazier, and so our health care costs are rising.

Socialized medicine works better in societies where people are skinny and active, as is the case in much of Europe.

But we face a situation in America where our government has to cover more and more sickly people. The amount of people with heart problems, diabetes and other such expensive diseases is soaring.

A government that takes on the burden of people’s stupid life choices will face ever-increasing costs. If we are to truly implement working public health in the U.S., the government must begin punishing people who eat too much or who don’t exercise.

Few politicians are willing to tell their constituents to shape up, but spiraling deficits will force action. The government can’t afford for its citizens to be fat, lazy and sickly if it has to pay the bill.

If health care returns to being privately provided, and people have to pay for their lifestyle choices, be it smoking, overeating or not working out, costs will start to be contained.

We need to bend the waistline curve and the cost curve will follow.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 1:37 pm

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