Yesterday on Fox News Channel, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard argued that universal health care reform would not contain health costs in the long run:
But there was another whopper in there, and I’ll read it too you. He said his plan pays for itself over, say, a ten-year period, so that we’re actually saving money over the long term. In other words, we’re going to insure all the uninsured, and they’re going to have better healthcare. In other words, you’re going to get a lot more for less. Now, does anybody who can tie his shoes believe that? I don’t think so! Come on! That’s ridiculous. We’re going to save money. There’s going to be a lot more for you, but it will cost a lot less.
The short answer to Barnes’ question is ‘yes.’ Plenty of independent, self-sufficient shoe-tiers believe that if we bring everyone into the health care system, we could better manage preventive care and chronic diseases and eliminate the cost shift from the uninsured to the insured.
A third of all Americans have a chronic condition. We spend about $1.2 trillion a year, or approximately two-thirds of all national health care spending, on managing these diseases. If heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease could be prevented, the American health care system would save billions of dollars. (If every diabetes patient received the appropriate primary care for their condition, for example, then national health care spending would fall by $2.5 billion).
So by covering everyone, we can ensure that Americans have access to preventive care that saves literally billions “over the long term.” As Chris Jennings explained at a recent CAP health event, “the uninsured and the underinsured and their challenges have to be addressed not just because of the moral blight on our country, on our history, on our record… but frankly it’s a necessary condition to make our health care system more efficient“:
If people go in and out of the system you can neither prevent that problem nor can you coordinate the disease [management] well if you don’t have coverage.
The uninsured are also contributing to the nation’s health care bill. While they do pay for a significant amount of their care at retail rates, a Families USA study found that uncompensated care for the uninsured contributes an average $922 to family health insurance premiums. In the wake of the economic crisis, a growing number of Americans are also skipping preventive care and doctors visits, only adding to the country’s health care tab and driving up health care costs.
As President-elect Barack Obama suggested yesterday, rather than asking if we can afford to reform the health care system during “this moment of economic challenge,” Barnes should be wondering “how can we afford not to?”