Health Care and Cars Are Different

The following is a guest post by Dan Franklin, the lead server programmer for the kids’ website Poptropica.com from Pearson Education.  Outside of work Dan sings with the a cappella group Blue of a Kind and reads extensively. What he reads, and more importantly, how he speaks about it has impressed me for years, so I asked Dan to submit some posts. I hope this is the first of many. –Austin

Periodically, one sees the assertion that it’s a good thing that health care expenditures are rising, just as it would be good if more people bought Priuses.  Last year, Geoff Colvin, Fortune senior editor at large, emitted this opinion.

We’ve all seen the graph that shows health-care costs increasing much faster than GDP; it’s usually presented as evidence of the crisis we’re in.

Take a graph with that same trajectory and label it “Sales of hybrid vehicles” or “Downloads from the iTunes Music Store,” and nobody proposes government intervention to stop it. Yet health-care costs, too, are in fact revenues, and fast-rising revenues are generally seen as exciting and laudable in every industry except one. How come?

To compare health care expenditures to car purchases is absurd.  Purchasing a car is a discretionary purchase that improves the buyer’s life.  The vast majority of health care expenses are to fix something that is no longer working properly. They are a necessity, and only serve to bring you back to the state of health you previously enjoyed.  Health care is not like car purchases; it’s like car repair.  You don’t do it unless you need to.

Every dollar spent on health care is a dollar not spent on increasing productivity or improving our lives.  It is purely remediatory.  By Geoff Colvin’s reasoning, the citizens of Florida should rejoice every time a hurricane passes through, because of the high construction expenditures that will surely follow.

Health care imposes a further unique burden.  Every dollar spent represents time spent away from more productive or enjoyable pursuits.  Those hours in the waiting room, on the operating table, recuperating, buying medicine, or just dealing with your health insurer are simply gone.

In short, this assertion is completely backwards.  I devoutly hope it will stop circulating.

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