The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has concluded that some popular health care proposals, like increasing funding for comparative effectiveness research and preventive care “would carry a high price tag and would generate only modest savings.” Still others, seem more promising. Requiring doctors and hospitals to use health information technology as a condition for participating in Medicare, for instance, saves “$7 billion in the first five years and a total of $34 billion over 10 years” and lowers “health insurance premiums in the private sector.”
In short, bringing everyone into the system, helping businesses afford health care coverage, insulating Americans from catastrophic health care bills and improving the quality of care, will yield savings but will also require a significant upfront investment in coverage and health care infrastructure.
If we fail to act, however, “health costs will continue to soar, the number of people without insurance will rise by nearly one million a year, to a total of 54 million in 2019, and spending on health care will increase to 25 percent of the gross domestic product in 2025, up from 16 percent in 2007.”
As General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner admitted, a national health care program would have helped the industry avert financial disaster:
GWEN MOORE (D-WI): Wouldn’t this have been a great time for GM to say, we need a national health care program in order to stay viable? …. Why did you stop short of saying that this kind of initiative would help our industry?
WAGONER: Well it undoubtedly would help level the playing field for the industry. … We’ve then tried to we have been very active in the health-care debate since here in Washington. … Our competitors do in most other countries have a significantly greater government role.
After all, that’s what the government does: it spends money to avert disaster. We spend billions on protecting our homeland and bailouts of financial institutions. To somehow change the paradigm in the health care discussion and argue that reform is only possible if it’s budget neutral, completely affordable, or free, is intellectually dishonest. We don’t count the pennies we spend on securing our airports or argue that if we try to secure all of them we’ll bust the budget, and we shouldn’t penny pinch for affordable health care.
As the CBO points out, certain cost-containment measures will indeed contain costs. But to avert the consequences of inaction and help its citizens, the government will have to invest new dollars into health care. As with anything else, it will have to collect taxpayer money, find savings where it can, and then spend to improve the common good.