When I became a student of health policy and health services research, the number we were taught was $1 Trillion. That was how much the U.S. spent on health care every year. Now, some 5 years later, the “magic number” has doubled to $2 Trillion a year. That is an inconceivable amount of money, which is why I wrote a post that tried to explain what $1 Trillion looks like.
But here’s another question: How did we go from $1 to $2 Trillion in just 5 years? That’s a whole lot of money in a very short time, and that’s why everyone’s using the word “unsustainable” so frequently. Well, the Healthcare Economics blog has an interesting post that explains that the rapid growth in costs has different causes depending on who you ask. Of course, this comes from a study done in 1996, and I’m sure that were a similar poll done today, the responses might be different, but I suspect that the groups polled (health economists, doctors, and economic theorists) would still differ markedly from one another.
It’s important to note, too, that there isn’t likely a sole factor behind the rise of health expenditures, but rather a confluence of factors. The difference of opinions then, reflects a difference in priorities under a particular paradigm. Still, there must be some overall truth out there. Perhaps if health economists, health care providers, and economic theorists got together in a room (and survived), we would find ourselves a little bit closer to that truth and a solution.