The Price of Cutting Access to Health Care

In Economy, Healthcare On
- Updated

Yet there is a solid economic argument for protecting your fellow citizens’ access to health care that does not rely on arguments from empathy, charity or the like. A sickly, poorly insured population can be expensive.

As noted by a study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, poor health and limited access to health care not only raise the cost of providing such care but also reduce productivity, eat into wages, increase absenteeism, weigh on tax revenues and generally lower the nation’s quality of life.

The study, which focused on the disadvantages of African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, added up the costs of inequalities in health and premature death between 2003 and 2006 and came up with a price tag of $1.24 trillion.

The good news, senators, is that solving these inequities needn’t be particularly expensive. The analysis relayed in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that each additional life saved by expanding Medicaid costs $327,000 to $867,000. That is much cheaper than other public interventions, such as workplace safety and environmental regulations, which achieve a similar reduction in mortality for each $7.6 million spent on compliance.

Even better: Instead of taking away the health insurance of more than 20 million Americans, what if you could offer nearly universal access and still make that work within your broader agenda?

In 2015, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States government spent 8.4 percent of its gross domestic product to pay for health care for about half of all Americans, including Medicare, Medicaid and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. That year, Britain spent 7.7 percent to cover virtually all of its citizens. Finland, Canada and Italy spent even less.

I understand, senators, that these places have what is known as single-payer systems — which tend to stick in the craws of some of you. But think about it. If your primary motivation to repeal the Affordable Care Act is to provide a large tax cut for high-income Americans, think what you could do with a full percentage point of G.D.P. It could even be worth the effort to provide health care for all.

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