The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much

Profit CaduceusA new article by the Associated Press bears the title Why Health Care Eats More Of Your Paycheck Every Year. The title is a bit misleading; the article provides plenty of facts about the woefully inadequate state of health care in the USA, but  skillfully avoids any mention of the real causes; in medical terms, it focuses on the symptoms while neglecting the disease.

This is a dismal piece of journalism. The “reasons” given for the increases in health care costs include glaringly obvious facts:

  • People need medical attention to stay alive
  • Health care is necessary for quality of life
  • Insurance companies keep raising premiums many times higher than the rate of inflation
  • Medical equipment and drugs are expensive
  • Unless something changes, people will have to choose between buying health insurance and paying for food and shelter.

All of these statements are true, but none explains why increases in health care exceed growth in the rest of the economy. These are simple observations, not causes of runaway health care costs.

Vapid and insubstantial enough; but it gets worse.

Throughout the article, medical attention is compared to consumer products like new lawnmowers, denim jeans, Christmas presents and vacations to Paris. One wonders if the author has ever experienced, even vicariously, a medical emergency. Visits to the doctor’s office or the hospital are not fun; illness is not entertaining. Normal Americans do not get surgery out of boredom or to be fashionable (the idle rich are not normal Americans). People seek medical attention because they are sick, injured or dying. To compare this to shopping is incredibly callous and completely inappropriate, but not surprising: every source quoted in the article is an economist or a benefits consultant. It would have been more diligent instead to have interviewed people waiting in line at the ER, or those wheeled out to the curb trailing an IV bag, having reached the limit of their coverage. Would the reporter have the temerity to question their spending habits face to face? Somehow I doubt it.

canadaThe elephant in the room, never even alluded to in this article, is the fact that the USA is alone among developed nations in this regard. Nowhere else is the cost of health care in itself a health care crisis. Nowhere else do hard-working citizens suffer financial ruin due to illness or injury. Nowhere else is access to medical attention a commodity on a par with pork bellies or oil futures.

The following table illustrates the real reason why health care costs so much more in the USA than anywhere else:

  Other Countries USA
illness or injury misfortune opportunity for profit
medical attention basic need commodity
drug advertisement illegal legal
health insurance single payer private industry
primary cause of bankruptcy business emergency medical emergency
number of medical bankruptcies per year zero 643,000
leveraging your neighbors’ misfortunes for profit criminal no problem, as long as you have money to invest

greedThe real reason health care eats more of your paycheck every year is greed. While there are a few people in every nation who lack the moral fiber to put public health before personal gain, in the USA these moral rejects have the rest of us in a stranglehold. Call it patriotism or good business or common decency – call it what you will – but somehow their greed must be curbed. There are two ways you can help: first, inform yourself and share with others; and second, vote for representatives who will fight for single-payer health care and social responsibility.

There are plenty of good articles, like this one, that give an accurate portrayal of our broken health care system. For the Associated Press to have published such a fluffy piece of tripe borders on misinformation. They should know better; they do know better. We, the people of the United States of America, deserve better.