The health-care conundrum involves a contradiction that the administration steadfastly obscures: In the short run -- meaning four to eight years -- government cannot both insure the uninsured and rein in health spending. Here's why. The notion that the uninsured get little or no care is a myth: They now receive about 50 to 70 percent as much health care as the insured. If they become insured, they would use more health care, possibly as much as today's insured. That would increase both government and private health spending, depending on how the insurance is provided.
Until health-care costs are better controlled, expanding insurance coverage will be expensive. The president talks endlessly about the need to limit spending and eliminate waste. These are worthy goals. But changing the way medical care is delivered and paid for would take years and involve disruptive and unpopular measures. Patient co-payments might increase; networks of doctors and hospitals might displace individual practices; the tax exclusion for employer-paid health insurance might be curbed. Obama downplays the obstacles. His 'reform' isn't likely to compel needed changes, partly because it's not clear what will work.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Robert J. Samuelson on health care