It’s official: rising health care costs are killing us

If they’re not exactly killing us, they will eventually kill the economy. Everyone knows that health care costs are rising, generally much faster than the inflation rate. Many reasons are given for this, including such things as increased costs for medications, the cost of litigation (this one is influenced by whether or not you think there is a “malpractice crisis”), the aging of our population, and the built-in inefficiencies of the insurance industry. Whatever the reasons, though, a recent and telling study by the Congressional Budget Office lays out what most of us already knew: “The long-term fiscal balance of the United States will be determined primarily by the future rate of growth of health care costs . . . .”

We simply cannot sustain a rate of health care spending that is rising faster than the cost of anything else in the economy. In a way, we are victims of our own success in devising new medicines and treatments. But if nothing changes the CBO predicts that by the year 2050 health care would consume 20% of the national economy, a proportion which today is that of the entire federal budget. Clearly, something has to give. What will it be?

The only way I can see for this mess to get fixed is for everyone to agree there is a huge problem that is nobody’s entire fault — it is consumer demand that has largly driven the whole thing. We did it. So we have to dampen that demand in some way. How to do this? I fear ultimately it will come with draconian and inevitably soulless bureaucratic rules. But is doesn’t have to be that way. Each of us has the power to realize that when we demand a new medical service that hasn’t really been shown to work any better than cheaper ones, and when we insist on services shown to be of only marginal benefit, we are robbing from everyone else, especially our children who will be left with the bills. Equally important, when we demand expensive care for ailments that we largely caused in ourselves we are doing the same thing.

We are all a community. We need to solve this problem as a community.


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