In his State of the Union address this week, President Bush proposed solutions to our health care crisis.
And what crisis would that be?
By several measures, health care spending continues to rise at the fastest rate in our history.
In 2004, total national health expenditures in the United States rose 7.9 percent — over three times the rate of inflation. Total spending was $1.9 TRILLION in 2004, or $6,280 per person. That represents 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.S, and it is expected to increase at similar levels for the next decade reaching $4 TRILLION in 2015, or 20 percent of GDP.
In 2006, employer health insurance premiums increased by 7.7 percent — two times the rate of inflation. The annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $11,500. The annual premium for single coverage averaged over $4,200.
Oh, and just as an aside, close to 50 million Americans have no health insurance coverage at all.
And that’s just America.
In Canada, which has a publicly funded, national system, twenty-two percent of all taxes raised are spent on health care. In exchange for these costs, you can expect long waits and inefficiency. In 2003, the average Canadian waited more than four months for treatment by a specialist once a referral was made by a general practitioner. And things are expected to get profoundly worse both in terms of increasing costs and lengthening waits as the Canadian population ages.
In Europe, of course, the situation is no better. Great Britain’s National Health Service costs its 60 million citizens some £50,000,000,000 each year. Over one million people are waiting for treatment and surgery at any given moment, and often waiting months, or even years for some surgeries. France, Italy, Germany — it doesn’t matter. Everywhere health care costs are exploding, and the value of the health care received is under fire.
Look, the bottom line is that all over the world, traditional health care is a broken system, and not one of the solutions being offered (more funding, mandatory insurance, universal health care, whatever) addresses the core issues.
- Ever increasing costs — far beyond rates of inflation
- Ever more expensive “cutting edge” treatments
- An aging population
- Demographics that make fewer young workers pay for the health care costs of an ever greater number of retired, aging, citizens who absorb an ever greater percentage of allocated health care dollars.
These are the statistics that governments everywhere debate, and they are important, but they pale in significance to one crucial fact. In virtually every country in the world, vast majorities of the population have opted out of taking responsibility for their own health and rely on expensive medical care instead. We’re talking about the exploding rates of obesity and diabetes we’re seeing throughout the world. We’re talking about the fact that 90% of all heart disease is self-inflicted. That up to 90% of all cancer is avoidable. That side effects from the very drugs we take to get well are responsible for a huge percentage of the illness we ultimately seek medical care for.
Bottom line: no tinkering with systems or expansion of funding can stop health care systems all over the world from imploding like the giant Ponzi schemes they are until people start taking charge of their own health and reduce the need for the vast majority of health care they now require.