Sunday, April 10, 2005

Boomers and healthcare

Your CaliBlogger prompted a lively discussion over at Daily Kos with the x-post of Death and the whiniest generation (astute readers will note I changed the title a bit for kos, gotta keep it punchy to catch people's eyes over there). It's a great discussion and I highly recommend the article, but more importantly the many astute comments it sparked.

One of the ideas I posted later in the discussion was my hope that as the boomer generation ages it will begin to truly begin to recognize the need for fairly radical health care reform. Just to show that I'm a good day and a half of the news cycle, tomorrows New York Times will be featuring a piece by the redoubtable Paul Krugman announcing the need for health care reform and announcing it as his major focus for an impending series of articles:

Those of us who accuse the administration of inventing a Social Security crisis are often accused, in return, of do-nothingism, of refusing to face up to the nation's problems. I plead not guilty: America does face a real crisis - but it's in health care, not Social Security.

Well-informed business executives agree. A recent survey of chief financial officers at major corporations found that 65 percent regard immediate action on health care costs as "very important." Only 31 percent said the same about Social Security reform.
That Mr. Krugman is turning his very keen eye is very good news indeed. Not only is he a distinguished economist (bio here), he has also proven to be able to cut through the typical political blather and frame his points in clear and understandable terms, an ability he has amply demonstrated by taking apart brick by brick, the Republican noise machine's misrepresentation and manipilation of the Social Security debate.

And it is readily apparent the Mr. Krugman's vision is quite clear as he focuses on healthcare, a true crisis:
So what's the problem? Why not welcome medical progress, and consider its costs money well spent? There are three answers.

First, America's traditional private health insurance system, in which workers get coverage through their employers, is unraveling. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that in 2004 there were at least five million fewer jobs with health insurance than in 2001. And health care costs have become a major burden on those businesses that continue to provide insurance coverage: General Motors now spends about $1,500 on health care for every car it produces.

Second, rising Medicare spending may be a sign of progress, but it still must be paid for - and right now few politicians are willing to talk about the tax increases that will be needed if the program is to make medical advances available to all older Americans.

Finally, the U.S. health care system is wildly inefficient. Americans tend to believe that we have the best health care system in the world. (I've encountered members of the journalistic elite who flatly refuse to believe that France ranks much better on most measures of health care quality than the United States.) But it isn't true. We spend far more per person on health care than any other country - 75 percent more than Canada or France - yet rank near the bottom among industrial countries in indicators from life expectancy to infant mortality.
So those are the issues that need to be addressed, others might be listed, but Mr. Krugman's next point, and why its so important for progressives to get vocally on board. The money quote:
To get effective reform, however, we'll need to shed some preconceptions - in particular, the ideologically driven belief that government is always the problem and market competition is always the solution.

The fact is that in health care, the private sector is often bloated and bureaucratic, while some government agencies - notably the Veterans Administration system - are lean and efficient. In health care, competition and personal choice can and do lead to higher costs and lower quality. The United States has the most privatized, competitive health system in the advanced world; it also has by far the highest costs, and close to the worst results. [Emphasis mine]
So that's the battle, and if progressives and the Democratic Party have the balls to take it on, it can be the defining moment of this generation of the enlightened. But it's a battle that will make the Social Security piratization skirmishes look like mere dust devils compared to the tornado the regressive will whip up against what needs be done: remove our country's healthcare from those who's over-riding goal is profit.

In that battle I believe progressives have unaccustomed allies, most notably the (non-insurance) business community which increasingly faces the choice of paying exhorbitant health insurance costs, or face increasing losses from un-insured workers absent due to health problems that go unaddressed until they reach emergency room status.

But my main hope, God help me, is that the enormous mass of the boomer generation will, as they typically do, act in their own self interest, and support rational health care solutions.

No comments: