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Saturday, September 27, 2008

"In Defense of a Giant (and Growing) Health Care Industry"

Now I know who to blame:

Without health care as the economy’s most powerful economic locomotive, economic growth during President George W. Bush’s first term would have been so anemic that he most probably would have lost the election in 2004.

That is Uwe E. Reinhardt writing in the NY Times new Economix blog in defense of the health care industry:

In Defense of a Giant (and Growing) Health Care Industry, by Uwe E. Reinhardt, Economix: If a Martian landed on earth and followed our debate on health care, he or she ... would hear politicians, business people and the talking heads ... lament the burden that health care puts on the economy and over the prospect that health care will destroy America. ... Only an ignoramus or a fool could arrive at this conclusion.

Alas, Mother Earth is full of such people.

Think about it. When you last visited a physician’s practice or stayed in a hospital, did you see people other than patients... [T]hese people call their work “jobs”... [T]heir care for you has economic value...? Did you consider that they postponed your death by many years, perhaps even decades? Would you really surmise that their work creates less value added than, say, the fast-food industry? ...

Can any straight-thinking person really conclude that, on balance, health care is a burden on our economy?

For starters, be advised that health care is a large part of a nation’s gross domestic product. In the United States, it accounts for 16 percent of gross domestic product, now projected to go to 20 percent or so within a decade. Between 2001 and 2002, for example, growth in health spending represented over 50 percent of the growth in the entire United States G.D.P.

Some experts condemn these trends... To be sure, there is considerable waste in ... health care, just as there is in the ... defense industry and in many other sectors... But such waste at the margin does not vitiate the assertion that, on average, our health system is one of the finer sectors in the economy.

In a 2005 study,... Eric Topol and Kevin M. Murphy showed the American health care system to be one of the highest value-added sectors in the economy. And as the economist Michael Mandel of Business Week recently reported, health care contributed 50 percent of all new jobs over the most recent business cycle.

If that Martian were to land this week, in the middle of the bailout maelstrom, he’d probably tell Americans to thank their lucky stars that at least one sector of their economy is, well, still healthy.

My hope is that the bailout of the financial sector does not "starve" social programs, progress on health care reform, infrastructure spending, and other critical needs. One disappointment in the debate last night was to see so many questions assume this as an implicit truth, that the bailout will severely constrain our ability to do other things. So I'm not confident the hope will be realized.

Our economic system is in need of repair in a variety of ways. We need health care reform that gives everyone the care they need, and gives businesses a better competitive position on global markets, we need a "New New Deal" as it has been called to provide social insurance for workers and their families that works in the modern, global economy, we need to address crumbling infrastructure, and we need to go beyond replacing what has depreciated and make new investments in our future.

I see nothing wrong with asking the people who have benefited the most from our economic system in the past to play the largest role in helping to repair it. We don't have to give up our aspirations for the future, we just need those who have benefited so much from our economic system to step up to the plate and help us move forward.

    Posted by on Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 03:33 PM in Economics, Health Care | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (44)


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