Reading time – 3:20 . . .
The daily outrages and incessant infantile furies create a barrier to focusing on important but non-urgent issues. Indeed, this post is being written just 10 days after the weekend massacres in El Paso and Dayton. This is during the ongoing intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. On full display are his dual betrayals of, 1. refusing to bring legislation to the floor of the Senate for a vote to defend against foreign invasion of our democracy, and, 2. refusal to bring any gun safety legislation to a vote. Happening at the same time is the President’s lying and misleading about both issues. But his behavior is so consistent that it’s hardly worth a yawn. Still, he’s the president, so his narcissism-on-display does suck up our national focus.
We have to make time to shine a light on the important but non-urgent issues. These things beg for answers, so let’s look at one as a placeholder for all: our gargantuan healthcare complex and changes we don’t notice.
STAT, the daily briefing from The Boston Globe focusing on healthcare related issues, reported on August 12,
“A new report from UnitedHealth Group finds that hospital prices increasing at current rates could end up costing $250 billion over the next decade. The report says that prices set by hospitals for services — and not physician salaries or how much hospital services get used — are what’s driving up patients’ spending. Between 2013 and 2017, for instance, hospital prices increased by 19% while the cost of physician services increased by half that amount.”
To put that into perspective, healthcare accounted for 17.9% of GDP in 2017 and inflated 3.9% that year to a total of $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person. We spend a crazy amount of money battling injury and disease and this report says the cost to do that is getting far worse.
The un-examined tidbit that seems like a throwaway in this report is that over that same 4-year period the cost of physician services increased by almost 10%. Did we receive 10% greater value? Why should we pay the extra 10%?
Silly question. We pay it because healthcare isn’t like deciding which car to buy or whether now is a good time to install an energy efficient furnace. There isn’t a marketplace of cost competitive choices for doctors and when you need healthcare you need it now, regardless of your ability to pay.
That’s compounded by most of us getting a major portion of the cost of our healthcare from a third party – an insurance company – so we may only see the co-pay and be ignorant of the true cost. The result is that doctors and hospitals can charge what they want. There will be some moderation of the cost as the insurance companies arm wrestle with doctor and hospital office managers over their invoices, but that’s pretty much it.
We are so accustomed to the price of healthcare going up, reflected in our insurance premiums that may right now be getting deducted from your paycheck, that we don’t even squawk any more. Millions are so accustomed to the ever-escalating cost system that they won’t even look at alternative ways to fund our healthcare or ameliorate its cost.
Extending our willful blindness about our pockets being picked begs an answer to how many other ways we’ve allowed ourselves to become numb, as others eat away at our financial well being. That stuff is bankrupting us, so the question begging for an answer is, “What are we missing?”
In that same edition of STAT they report,
“President Trump announced late last month a plan to import drugs from Canada to help lower Americans’ prescription costs, and Canadians are not happy about it.”
Just think for a moment about the multiple crazies of this. First, most of those drugs are made in the U.S. and exported to Canada at substantially reduced cost, where they are sold for somewhat more sane prices to consumers. Trump wants to create a massive importation of those same drugs back into the U.S., thus effectively swatting at symptoms and refusing to deal with the root cause. And it’s worse than that.
The predictable Canadian backlash to this vacuum-headed idea is driven by shortages of drugs in Canada. Reports STAT,
“You are coming as Americans to poach our drug supply, and I don’t have any polite words for that,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa. Read more here.
This is just another of Donald Trump’s strategy-vacant ideas without any thought to consequence to others, especially to our strong ally and second biggest trading partner.
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Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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