The Economics and Politics of Health

The Economics and Politics of Health

The Economics and Politics of Health

The Economics and Politics of Health

Excerpt

Americans are now spending $280 billion per year, nearly 10 percent of the gross national product (GNP), on health, which is a larger commitment to health than that made by any other nation. Predictions are that expenditures on health will soon be 12 percent of our GNP. This implies that health is treated as a desirable good in our culture and that "medicalization" will continue to increase. However, more medical care does not always improve health, and it is improvement in the level of health which must be the ultimate goal of medical care in society.

Television soap operas with medical themes became very popular during the 1970s, but this curious and sometimes exaggerated concern with all things medical has begun to subside, giving way to the more usual concerns of a vigorous, secular, and productive society. Sales of paperback books on death and dying, a reflection of our aging society, are, however, still in the millions. People no longer cling to the claim that more medical care is always better medical care and that the greater use of more expensive, newer technology is always desirable. The public is beginning to recognize that changes in lifestyle can promote better health, and admit that prolongation of life by medical intervention without consideration of the quality of the additional days of life is undesirable.

Dramatic technological advances in medicine, such as organ transplants and artificial insemination, continue to raise new questions of ethical concern. Solving the potential conflicts over values challenges scholars and policy-makers alike. New medical technologies do not always provide less expensive substitutes for existing medical technologies, unlike advancements made in other sectors of the economy. While medical innovations often add to quality, they can also add to costs by requiring additional, specially trained labor. Not all medical interventions result in a measurable benefit; many relieve anxiety about the uncertainty of whether one has a disease or not, and some may be harmful. The length of time for informational feedback on effectiveness may be very long, and the degree of uncertainty of medical outcomes remains large. A new drug often represents a medical . . .

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