As we begin a New Year, it’s natural to reflect on what transpired during 2009 and firm up our hopes for 2010. My biggest hope can be simply expressed: I’d like to get healthy.
While vacationing in Minnesota during mid-July, I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that spreads very rapidly to the bone marrow, blood and central nervous system. Without treatment, Burkitt’s lymphoma is quickly fatal. Thanks to the swift and excellent cancer care I received at the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMCC) and KU Med, I survived the initial onslaught of the disease and am now in complete remission.
This means that, according to medical science, the cancer that was detected in July has been eradicated and there is no immediate fear of a catastrophic health event. Nobody in the cancer business uses the word “cured,” but I’m looking at a 70-80 percent chance of dying from something unrelated to my cancer.
Sitting in a hospital bed for nearly six months gave me lots of time to think about pending “reforms” to our health care system, and raised some important questions:
How do you measure the quality of health care? Patient satisfaction is the best way to measure product quality in health care, and I received excellent cancer care at the UMCC, KU Med, and from my primary care physician here in Lawrence. These nurses and doctors served me with a rare combination of competence and empathy; they literally saved my life. I want nothing to do with a new system that threatens the quality of health care and endangers future improvements.
Are current health-care costs out of line? I don’t think so. Catastrophic cancer treatment is very expensive but worth it. The total cost of my cancer treatments will run in the neighborhood of $300,000. I use KU’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan with an 80/20 percent match and an annual coinsurance cap of $2,200, so it will take about 20 years of insurance premiums at the current rate of roughly $10,500 per year to pay these costs. I’m happy to pay the bill.
If you were really sick, would you prefer 1985 treatment at 1985 prices, or 2010 treatment at 2010 prices? If you’re really sick like I was, I think you’d want to pay up for state-of-the-art health-care treatment. The United States has a big lead in pharmaceutical research, medical device development, and medical treatment technology. If 1985 technology still ruled the medical world, I’d be a dead man by now.
Does the government have the expertise to run the U.S. health-care system? I see no evidence to support an affirmative answer. Suppose you have an important message or package that has to get delivered to a friend or business associate as soon as possible. Most of us would send important time-sensitive messages using texting or e-mail (via the Internet), and ship vital packages using FedEx or UPS. Given that the U.S. Postal Service is notoriously inefficient and slow, why should the same folks be put in charge of the U.S. health care system?
Will health care costs explode with further government involvement? History says yes. The government has not been able to prudently control Medicare, Medicaid, or Veterans Affairs health care costs, or any other costs for that matter. (Have you seen the federal budget deficit lately?) Since 1965, and following the start of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, health care spending in the United States has more than tripled from 5 percent to 16 percent of GDP. Inefficient government spending is a time-proven recipe for higher health-care costs.
Under the Bush and Obama administrations, exploding federal spending and skyrocketing federal deficits have become the norm. In the last half-century, federal outlays accounted for an average 22.2 percent of GDP. The fiscal 2010 Obama budget boosts that by about one-third to 27.2 percent. If our health care system were fully nationalized, federal outlays as a share of GDP would rise to 43.2 percent-or roughly double what it was in 2007. Taxpayers get what’s left over, and their share of GDP is rapidly shrinking.
The federal government has a record of dismal failure when it comes to health care “reform.” More government meddling is an unlikely solution. In the words of an old axiom, “If you want to get out of a hole, the first step is to stop digging.”