A serious health care proposal

Brad DeLong argues that the government should pick up all health care costs above $50,000. Among other things, this would diminish the incentive for HMOs to neglect sick patients or try to push them off the books. It also would provide comprehensive catastrophic insurance. By lowering the cost of private insurance, it will lead more people to be insured, which will lower governmental costs elsewhere in the system. Being on the run in Poland, I don’t have the ability to offer a full analysis. But it’s one of the best economics posts I’ve read in the blogosphere in a long time.

One question I have is how many of these expenditures are worth subsidizing at all. A big chunk of our health care bill is spent in the last year or two of life, without always bringing much of a payoff. A second question is what would happen to cost control at these higher levels of expenditure. In particular what would happen to cost care as we approached the $50,000 threshold?

The proposal can be viewed in one of two lights. From one perspective, it will bring catastrophic care to many who are otherwise uninsured. From another perspective, we already have too much catastrophic care, at the expense of prevention and healthy lifestyle habits. Government catastrophic insurance will lead to price controls, either explicit or implicit, and rationing. Catastrophic care will decline, but in a way that might be beneficial. This latter alternative is not politically appealing, but we cannot rule it out as the relevant scenario.

But read Brad’s post and make up your own mind. Health care reform is an area where no one (i.e., you, the reader, and me, the writer) should feel they already have a pat or satisfactory answer.


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