Friday, November 13, 2009

The simple math of healthcare access

Look, here is the bottom line in broad strokes.

The costs of healthcare have been rising exponentially, but people's incomes have not. Despite the biggest economic expansion over the last 50 years, and despite astronomic rise in our productivity, the real wages for the bottom 80% of all earners have not increased one iota since 1975! This means that, while the costs for all products and services have grown at the pace of inflation or more rapidly (as in the case of healthcare), our buying power has remained stagnant.

What is the result of this disparity? Well, one result was the implosion of the mortgage-backed derivatives market. Some economists posit that the productivity-wages gap allowed corporations to stockpile enormous wealth. This wealth, in turn, was translated by the Wall Street Wizards into the obscure mortgage-backed derivatives Ponzi scheme, where mortgage loans lent to people with no way to pay them back were being used as collateral for these assets. The math is simple: productivity was up, wages stagnant, consumerism rampant, cash abundant -- bingo! The nation lived beyond its means for over a decade, imaginary wealth made and lost in a blink of an eye.

What does any of this have to do with healthcare? The connection is pretty obvious to me: rapidly escalating costs in the face of stagnant wages and diminished capital. Without any changes in the trajectory of the healthcare costs even more people will be unable to afford health coverage. This simple arithmetic should not be so difficult to grasp. Closer to home, anyone who now says "Not my problem, I can still get 'everything' ", prepare for it to become your problem. Who will pay for "everything"? Without the needed cost containment, the faces of those left behind by our cruelly inequitable system will be getting more and more familiar.

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