Jonathan Gruber says health care reform should be part of a recovery package:
Medicine for the Job Market, by Jonathan Gruber, Commentary, NY Times: A central feature of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was an aggressive plan to expand health insurance coverage by subsidizing low-income Americans and preventing discrimination against the ill. ...[This] would require major new spending in the near term — perhaps $100 billion a year or more.
Given the present need to address the economic crisis, many people say the government cannot afford a big investment in health care... But this represents a false choice, because health care reform is good for our economy.
As the country slips into what is possibly the worst downturn since the Depression, nearly all experts agree that Washington should stimulate demand with new spending. And one of the most effective ways to spend would be to give states money to enroll more people in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan. This would free up state money for rebuilding roads and bridges and other public works projects — spending that could create jobs.
Health care reform can be an engine of job growth in other ways, too. Most proposals call for investments in health information technology, including the computerization of patient medical records. ... The hope is that computerized recordkeeping ... would improve the quality of patient care and perhaps also lower medical costs. More immediately, it would create jobs in the technology sector. After all, somebody would need to develop the computer systems and operate them for thousands of American health care providers.
Expanded insurance coverage would also drive demand for high-paying, rewarding jobs in health services. ...
Fundamental health care reform would also stimulate more consumer spending, as previously uninsured families would no longer need to save every extra penny to cover a medical emergency. When the federal government expanded Medicaid in the 1990s,... the newly insured significantly increased their spending on consumer goods.
Universal health insurance coverage would also address economic problems that existed before this downturn began... In our current system, people who leave or lose their jobs often must go without insurance for months or years, and this discourages people from moving to positions where they could be more productive. Most reform proposals call for ... coverage ... for people who are self-employed or out of work, increasing their mobility.
If this coverage focuses on disease prevention and wellness, it could also improve the health, and thereby the productivity, of the workforce.
In the long term, the greatest fiscal threat facing this nation is the growth in the costs of health care. ... Experts have yet to figure out how to restrain cost increases without sacrificing the quality of care that Americans demand. Yet cost control would be easier in an environment of universal coverage. Nations like the Netherlands and Switzerland, which have achieved universal coverage within a private insurance structure, control costs better than we do. ...
These are challenging times. ... But rather than sit back and lick our wounds, we must move toward healing them. Fundamental health care reform that features universal insurance coverage is an important place to start.