Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Paul Krugman: The Health of Nations

Paul Krugman's op-ed piece in today's N.Y. Times is the first in what I can only hope will be many articles on the Bush administration's political vulnerabilities in the health care arena. Don't get me wrong: the mess we are in is not exactly the Bush administration's doing, not all of it anyway. We've been on a collision course with reality since 1965, some would argue since Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose plank in favor of a national, single-payer system was rejected at the beginning of the 20th century. But Bush's economic report has nothing useful to say to the 40 million uninsured or to the many millions of others who are periodically uninsured or chronically underinsured. Speaking of the nature of the problem and the vacuousness of the administration's response, Krugman concludes:
The result is that American health care, which at its best is the best in the world, offers much of the population a worst-of-all-worlds combination of insecurity and high costs. And that combination is getting worse: insurance premiums are rising, and companies are becoming increasingly unwilling to offer insurance to their employees.

What would an answer to the growing health care crisis look like? It would surely involve extending coverage to those now uninsured. To keep costs down, it would crack down both on drug prices and on administrative costs. And it might well cut private insurance companies out of the loop for some, if not all, coverage.

But the administration can't offer such an answer, both because of its ideological blinders and because of its special interest ties. The Economic Report of the President has only negative things to say about efforts to hold down drug prices. It talks at length about insurance reform, but it mainly complains that we rely too much on insurance; it says nothing about either expanding coverage or reducing insurance-company overhead. Its main concrete policy suggestion is a plan for tax-deductible health savings accounts, which would be worth little or nothing to a vast majority of the uninsured.

I'll talk more about alternatives for health care in future columns. But for now, let's just note that this is an issue the public cares about — an issue the administration can't address, but a bold Democrat can.
posted by tommayo, 1:37 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter