Monday, August 14, 2017

Three charts show why we can't move on from health care

Now that the Republicans' repeal and replace efforts have failed, you are seeing some on the left suggest that progressives move on from health care. The general idea is that the ACA is good enough, health care is hard, and Democrats should focus on other progressive policies like universal pre-K or paid parental leave.

The most prominent example of this thinking comes from Paul Krugman, who calls for Democrats making only small tweaks to the ACA:

Meanwhile, progressives should move beyond health care and focus on other holes in the U.S. safety net.

When you compare the U.S. social welfare system with those of other wealthy countries, what really stands out now is our neglect of children. Other countries provide new parents with extensive paid leave, provide high-quality, subsidized day care for children with working parents and make pre-K available to everyone or almost everyone; we do none of these things. Our spending on families is a third of the advanced-country average, putting us down there with Mexico and Turkey.

The reason progressives can’t move on from health care, even if they wanted to, is that our out of control health care industry will eventually eat everything.

The money that should be going to social programs for education, transportation, and children is effectively being stolen by the health care industry.

We could have Norway-level social programs without new taxes if we had Norwegian health care.


This is a problem which is only getting worse, not better. Large employers say insurance costs will grow by 5 percent next year, faster than the rest of the economy. The cost curve is unbent.

Even if we did create social programs like universal pre-K or paid parental leave, it is likely the ever-growing cost of health care would eventually force them to face cuts.

No social service is safe as long as health care demands a larger and larger share of the budget. Democrats current rally around free college, but that is something we effectively already had in places like California a few decades ago with the University of California system. The problem is health care kept starving the public system of money. Bring down health care costs, and California could reverse this trend. The Government Accountability Office makes this problem clear trend.



Contrary to what Krugman says, we need more than “incremental improvements in the A.C.A.” His comparison of Obamacare to the Netherlands is deeply misguided. While the ACA superficially resembles the Dutch system, it lacks the significant government cost control measures on providers and drug makers that the Dutch use to keep their spending only barely in line.

These are policies doctors, hospitals, and drug makers in America would heavily oppose. Pushing America towards Dutch-style health care would be a monumental reform effort that would face the same opposition from the health care industry that single payer would.

At some point progressives are going to need to make the health care industry stop ripping off the American people. If we don’t, all other social programs that cost money will be swallowed by this ever-growing blob. Every progressive social program is in danger until we really deal with health care.

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