Melanie Warner has a piece in the NYT about companies looking to reduce their health care costs by engineering healthier cafeteria items for their employees and the like. Since employees don’t stick around forever, there’s reason to believe this can be made to work. Eat right and exercise and you probably won’t develop any major medical problems until Medicare is picking up the tab. What’s a lot less clear is whether this kind of information saves money overall, since living to 104 in an assisted living facility can be very expensive. But as I was saying yesterday this is probably the wrong way to think about it.
The problem with America’s giant health care expenditures isn’t so much that they’re large per se (though they are) as it is that we don’t seem to be getting that much for our trouble. Investments in healthy lifestyles, by contrast, have pretty modest costs and very large benefits in terms of better health and longer lives. Whether that better health and longer life ultimately results in lower overall costs is an interesting question to pursue, but ultimately public health interventions that buy us a lot of extra high-quality life years at low cost are worth undertaking on their own merits.
The correct worry about high health care spending is that much of what we spend isn’t very useful. Useful spending, however, is good.