Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Real Medicare Villain It's Our Grossly Overpriced Health Care System

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Real Medicare Villain It's Our Grossly Overpriced Health Care System

Article excerpt

Republicans cry that President Barack Obama is raiding Medicare to fund a socialist health care nightmare. Democrats blast the GOP for sticking Grandma with vouchers to wreck a program it has secretly loathed for decades. Far be it from me to put the kibosh on all this drama, but when it comes to the policy stakes, such breathless charges are beside the point.

The real Medicare villain is not Barack Obama, and it's not "evil" Paul Ryan. The real villain is America's medical-industrial complex -- and once you grasp this, everything changes.

The beginning of wisdom on Medicare's future starts with two things both parties say but which can't simultaneously be true.

The first is that we spend much more on health care than any other advanced nation yet get no better results. The second claim -- implicit in the attacks on Mr. Obama's $716 billion in "cuts" or on the heartless Romney/Ryan vouchers -- is that, if we do much to slow the growth of health care spending, we'd hurt seniors' access and quality of care.

No matter how often and how loudly interest groups and politicians scream this second claim, it can't be true if the first claim is a fact. And the inefficiency of U.S. health care is indisputable.

The United States spends twice per person on health care what most other advanced nations spend without better outcomes to show for it. As a share of the economy, this now translates to an eye- popping 18 percent of GDP; the next closest nations spend 12 percent or 13 percent, while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average is in the 8s. Mighty Singapore, with comparable results, spends just 4 percent! And these nations perform better under every model -- from single-payer (Canada, England) to mandated private insurance (Switzerland, the Netherlands) to creative public- private hybrids (Singapore)

These aren't just dry numbers. They represent a progressive catastrophe. If we could run our health-care system as cost- effectively as other rich nations -- which also manage to insure everyone, while we shamefully still leave 50 million without basic coverage -- we'd free hundreds of billions of dollars a year to pay for infrastructure, research and development, universal preschool, great teachers for poor kids, a mega-earned-income tax credit for the working poor and higher wages (that's my starter list).

In other words, after Republican intransigence -- and even after we eventually raise taxes to help fund the boomers' retirement -- it's not an exaggeration to say that health-sector inefficiency is the biggest obstacle to progressive goals in the United States.

How does this tie to today's campaign?

Take the notorious $716 billion in "cuts" that both Mr. Obama and Mr. Ryan have in their 10-year plans (Mitt Romney says he'll repeal them, but then Mr. …

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