Monday, September 7, 2009

See You In Health.

Just read a fascinating (but lengthy) article about one man's investigation into the American healthcare/health insurance system after his father died from an infection he contracted while in the hospital. It's by David Goldhill and it has the low-key and subtle title "How American Health Care Killed My Father." Not sure I agree with all his solutions in the end (the last thing Americans need is more credit), but he brought up several points I haven't heard in the whole healthcare debate. Of course, I'm listening to the debate from the other side of the world, so I'm not as immersed as my American readers.

Anyway, let me whet your appetite with this:

The average insured American and the average uninsured American spend very similar amounts of their own money on health care each year—$654 and $583, respectively. But they spend wildly different amounts of other people’s money—$3,809 and $1,103, respectively. Sometimes the uninsured do not get highly beneficial treatments because they cannot afford them at today’s prices—something any reform must address. But likewise, insured patients often get only marginally beneficial (or even outright unnecessary) care at mind-boggling cost. If it’s true that the insurance system leads us to focus on only our direct share of costs—rather than the total cost to society—it’s not surprising that insured families and uninsured ones would make similar decisions as to how much of their own money to spend on care, but very different decisions on the total amount to consume.

The unfortunate fact is, health-care demand has no natural limit. Our society will always keep creating new treatments to cure previously incurable problems. Some of these will save lives or add productive years to them; many will simply make us more comfortable. That’s all to the good. But the cost of this comfort, and whether it’s really worthwhile, is never calculated—by anyone. For almost all our health-care needs, the current system allows us as consumers to ask providers, “What’s my share?” instead of “How much does this cost?”—a question we ask before buying any other good or service. And the subtle difference between those two questions is costing us all a fortune.

Click here to read the whole thing.