U.S. Deficit Problem = U.S. Health Care Cost Problem

By Elizabeth Palmberg 08-05-2010

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. As economist Marcellus Andrews argues in Taming the Beast in the August issue of Sojourners, cutting the deficit must not mean cutting the social safety net:

The alert reader will note that I've said nothing about Social Security or Medicare or any of the other big, bad stuff that deficit scare-mongers love to throw out there. The only way Social Security will run out of money is if the young stop paying taxes to finance their parents' benefits; as long as we like our parents, we can more than afford Social Security. And Medicare's problems, though real, will go away once we fix the U.S.'s health-care finance mess, in which we pay far more per person than similarly rich countries with better health outcomes.

On this last point, I recently ran across a calculator on the Center for Economic and Policy Research's website showing how, if U.S. per-person health-care costs were anywhere near other rich countries', our long-term projected budget deficit would be transformed into a surplus. For example, the red line on the chart below shows how far into surplus we'd be headed if our per-person health-care costs matched the U.K.'s:

100805-calculator

This chart is a year old, so the short-term part of the graph might be a little off, but not the long-term gist. (Of course, in that last year, health-care reform was passed; its provisions to help most of the uninsured get health insurance are a huge moral victory, but I haven't read anything suggesting that it will cause a stark turnaround in the U.S.'s per-capita health care costs.)

Click here to read about Jim Wallis' personal, positive experience with U.K. health care. Oh, and did I mention -- life expectancy in the U.K. is apparently two years longer than in the U.S.? Now that's a bottom line we can all relate to.

portrait-elizabeth-palmbergElizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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