Are there ways to contain health care costs and what will be their impact?

A major worry here is the fact that the high costs of healthcare in the United States do not necessarily buy the best health care services. The chief concern for corporations like GM and Ford is the ever growing healthcare costs and massive healthcare liabilities.  A recent trend has been for major industrial corporations to shift their bases across the border to Canada, where the government provides better support for employee health insurance. There is also a push for healthcare reform to mimic the Canadian system. In fact, under Bill Clinton, such a move was aborted in the last minute due to pressure from insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  It is widely agreed that the current crisis in the US health care system is due to higher prices for pharmaceuticals, physicians and hospital care.  Although there is consensus among policy makers as to what should be done to alleviate this problem, the required political will seems to be lacking.  Rather than trying to reduce prices, attempts have been made by politicians to reduce access to healthcare and service consumption (Tepper & Terry).

Even with the current estimates on projected Medicare and Medicaid savings, as well as savings from capping deductions for the rich, there is bound to be a “potential shortage of $300 billion to $600 billion of additional revenue because most estimates of 10-year cost of full coverage are in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion (with some estimates being as high as $2 billion)” (Wilensky, 2009).  But we have to remember that a deficit of $300 to $600 billion over a ten year time frame pales in comparison to the $700 billion bailout that was handed to the failed financial institutions of our country.  Surely, there is something sinister about our economic system, when privately owned and run banks are given preference over the health and wellbeing of millions of citizens.

The true reason for the prevailing healthcare stalemate is the strong corporate influence over our democratic institutions.  This is reflected in the choice of staff members in the executive branch of government, the handpicked appointments to posts in judiciary, the corporate funding of candidates during election campaigns, etc.  Again, Wilensky fails to mention the crucial fact that the reason healthcare reform became an election issue last year is because of pressure from large business corporations such as GM and Walmart, to alleviate their expenditure toward employee health insurance (Richmond & Fein, 2007).  This suggests that legislative changes take place in our country only when one or other of the corporate groups will the government to make favorable changes.  It then begs questions about the nature of our democratic institutions and whether or not we have a functioning democracy in the first place.  Such contrasting viewpoints on the reasons for the healthcare inaction are expressed by noted documentary filmmakers such as Michael Moore, as well as prominent left-wing intellectuals like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman, etc.  According to these alternative voices of reason, meaningful progress, in healthcare or in other aspects of society and economy, will not come about, until we address the broader systemic flaws.

References: 

Andersen, Ronald M., Rice, Thomas H., and Kominski, Gerald R. (Eds.). 2nd ed. Changing the U.S. Healthcare System. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Tepper, Carl D., and Terry R. Lied. “Trends in Medicaid prescribed drug expenditures and utilization.(Medicaid Highlights).” Health Care Financing Review 25.3 (Spring 2004): 69(10).

Richmond, Julius & Fein, Rashi (2007), The Health Care Mess: How We Got into It and What It Will Take to Get Out, Harvard University Press.

Gail R. Wilensky (August, 2009), Healthcare Reform: A Work in Progress, retrieved from http://www.hfma.org/hfm/2009archives/month08/HFM0809EOW.htm>