Medical Debt

John ArmstrongEconomy/Economics

Images I am quite suspicious of a federal system that solves our medical and health care crisis. I am not suspicious that there is a real crisis but I am very suspicious of the solutions that I hear being offered by the president and the congress. It is not that there are not solutions that we need to pursue. The question is whether or not the federal government can establish a program that works and then can be paid for in an efficient and prudent way. The history of what the government has done with Social Security is all the proof I need. The system will be bankrupt in a few decades and hardly anyone seems determined to fix the problem. So Bush had a bad solution. Did the opponents have any at all? During the Clinton era the Democrats argued for fixing the problem and then when they opposed Bush they said everything was just fine thank you. In general both parties, but the Democrats in particular, would rather create another huge entitlement and then leave the debt to the next generation.

Make no mistake about the problem. A team of U. S. researchers form Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University recently reported the following in the American Journal of Medicine.

1. 60% of bankruptcies in the U. S. are due to medical bills. 75% of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts.

2. 92% of medical debtors had debts of more than $5,000.

3. 25% of firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; about another 25% do so within a year.

4. 15% of the U. S. population would be left with no coverage if the current overhaul of the health care system was installed.

Remember, none of these figures come from a politically partisan source. The two biggest issues here seem to be: (1) medical debt crushes some people in the U.S. and, (2) the cancellation of coverage is a huge issue. It seems to me that these two problems could be fixed without making the federal government the source of fixing every other problem in the system. Changes in supervision and monitoring could address these two issues without deepening our federal debt in the process. It all seems simple but the congress has a way of making the simple into a huge new problem once they work out a bill and turn it into law

I expect that we will continue to hear numbers cited from every side arguing that their case about the health care issue is right. The question does seem to come down to this: "Who do you believe and why?" Reagan once said that the worst words that you could hear were, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you!" I do not doubt that government can help, in some limited and clear-cut cases, but administering a huge program to solve the bigger health crisis does not seem to be a sound solution from all I can see. I simply do not trust the government to do this efficiently and with fiscal integrity.