The issue of universal coverage is not a matter of economics. Little more than 1 percent of GDP assigned to health could cover all. It is a matter of soul.
The American people are not ready for the idea that everyone has at least a moral right to good, timely health care. They do agree they have a moral right, in critical cases, to have anything done to save their life, but they don’t believe that anyone has a right not to fall that sick to begin with. So if you ask me, “Are we ever succumbing to some notions of solidarity as a nation?,” I would say, “Not at all.” I would describe us as a group of people who share a geography. That’s a better description of Americans than that we’re a real nation with a sense of solidarity.
The good things at the U.S. health care system are that we have a well-trained labor force, particularly physicians; I don’t think any nation trains doctors better. We have the latest technology, simply because we throw so much money at it. We are really technology-hungry in this country. That’s a good thing. Our system more treats patients like customers, which is a good thing; that it’s very customer-friendly. And it’s very innovative, both in the products we use, in the techniques we use and the organizational structures we use. Those are all very good things, highly competitive.
Everybody should have health care, on the one hand. But on the other hand, if you ask Americans, “Are you willing to pay for it?,” they say no. So I’ve never been able to understand this contradiction.
We Americans, or half of Americans, think health care is a commodity. Other countries view health care as a social service that should be collectively financed and available to everyone on equal terms. My wife and I just interviewed the German minister of health, and it was an exhilarating experience, because it was a totally different language. It was obviously important that everyone should have the same deal in health care.
The bad things are that our financing of health care is really a moral morass. It is a moral morass in the sense that it signals to the doctors and hospitals that human beings have different values depending on their income status.
If you want to look at a purely socialized health care, you would have to go to the United States, where we have it. In particular, that’s the system we reserve for our veterans. So if I hear politicians run down socialized medicine – and I have done that before the Congress – I say: Do you hate your veterans? Why do you reserve purely socialized medicine – there’s only the U.S. and Cuba that have that – for the veterans? So getting the terms right would be very, very helpful in our national conversation on health reform.
Massachusetts is the first state in America to reach full adulthood. The rest of America is still in adolescence.
The [Hobby Lobby Supreme Court] ruling raises the question of why, uniquely in the industrialized world, Americans have for so long favored an arrangement in health insurance that endows their employers with the quasi-parental power to choose the options that employees may be granted in the market for health insurance.
The ACA is an ugly patch on an ugly system – and I don’t think it’s worth mentioning in the context of price or quality transparency.
Americans believe that the private sector is always more efficient and cheaper than big government, and particularly when you go among Republicans, even after five beers, they still believe it. But I always say, “If it’s really true, why would they need that 12 percent extra on a traditional government program? Explain to me why something that costs more saves me money as a taxpayer.”.
We economists, in our classes, teach students that to some degree, price discrimination is actually a good thing; that it allows you to serve lower-income people. Take Africa, with AIDS. They could never finance what an AIDS cocktail costs here, over $10,000 a year. But if you sold it to them for $300 a year, which just barely covers cost, they could probably serve quite a few of their citizens, with World Bank help. We economists say that will be beneficial. But it’s a two-tier system; yes, African people pay less than we would pay.
We have a nation where the elite thinks it’s OK to advocate a war and send the lower-income people to do the fighting. It’s natural for such a people to think that the lower-income people should also have a worse health care experience. And the other countries are not there – I always say, not there yet. I tell the Germans and the Swiss, “You’re not there yet, but if you’re not very, very careful, if we Americans come over there and rearrange … your health care system, you will be just like us.”
The bad things the U.S. health care system are that our financing of health care is really a moral morass in the sense that it signals to the doctors that human beings have different values depending on their income status. For example, in New Jersey, the Medicaid program pays a pediatrician $30 to see a poor child on Medicaid. But the same legislators, through their commercial insurance, pay the same pediatrician $100 to $120 to see their child. How do physicians react to it? If you phone around practices in Princeton, Plainsboro, Hamilton – none of them would see Medicaid kids.
Americans keep telling me they hate government. I always tell them: “Man, I’ve got a country for you: Go to Afghanistan; they don’t have one.” So if you’re of that ilk, yes, you can have your private paradise, but if you’re comfortable with government, then go with government.
The rich are becoming richer, and the gap between the rich and the poor is getting bigger.
We are the only nation where paper is still the mainstay in the private insurance industry.
There are libertarian values which say private property is the overarching value, the sanctity thereof, and there are egalitarians who say health care should be shared and so on. That’s fair enough.