Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Health Care: Economics and Morality

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.
Luke 8:43-44 

I got a note last week from a young woman in our church asking me to pray for her aunt who “has been diagnosed with lung cancer, lost her job in September and has no insurance. A day later a colleague told me of a friend who was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The good news is that her doctor has found a medication that gives her relief. The bad news is that it costs six hundred dollars a month, and she has no insurance. And last week I also heard from a young friend who was hit by a car while riding her bicycle. She was wearing a helmet, so the impact of her head on the hood of the car did not, apparently, cause serious injury, but she was reluctant to get checked at the hospital because (you guessed correctly) she had no health insurance.

Americans pay more for health care than any other developed country, and we get worse results. We don’t live as long and we are not as healthy as the residents of other developed countries. The difference is that they have universal health care and we don’t.

The woman with Crohn’s disease is a Canadian citizen who has lived and worked in the United States for several decades. After listening to her problem, a friend suggested gently, “Maybe it’s time to go home.”

We spend over $8,000 per person on health care. That’s more than twice the cost of other developed countries. We have fewer practicing physicians, 2.6 per thousand people compared with an average among other developed countries of 3.1 per thousand. Our life expectancy is 78.7 years, compared to an average among the developed nations of 79.8. And we have 2.6 hospital beds per thousand people, compared to an average of 3.4 beds per thousand in the rest of the developed world.

We spend more and we get less.

Health care is a moral issue, but it is also an economic issue. Universal health care improves lives and it saves money. It is not economically efficient for uninsured people to use the hospital emergency room when a visit to a doctor’s office is what they really need. Routine care can improve health and reduce the number of crisis situations that lead to emergency hospitalizations.

The Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare” is less than perfect, but it makes a beginning. Fewer people will be uninsured and fewer people missing out on routine screenings or going to the Emergency Room when they have a bad cold. And fewer people will face bankruptcy as the result of a catastrophic illness.

And there is an added bonus for those concerned about the national debt. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the debt by $143 billion between 2010 and 2019.

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