Don't Just Accept the Quick Fix
By Gena Akers
Valley Voices (San Luis Valley Health.org)
The math is simple. Our country has a budget deficit because we spend more than we have. The same applies personally: you can't spend your problems away with credit cards. You have to be accountable to yourself.
Now, we need to be accountable to our nation so our nation doesn't fail us.
Looking for the Quick Fix
Spending on healthcare is critical in this discussion. Unfortunately, healthcare spending has become the only discussion, while healthcare costs increase and go unnoticed.
Like the last 100 years of attempts at improving our healthcare system, Bob Semro of the Bell Policy Center argues that we are doing the same thing with deficit reduction plans. The current deficit-reduction "supercommittee" is just the next reincarnation of the last few attempts:
- Bowles-Simpson commission
- Domenici-Rivlin task force
- Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal
It's time, he argues, that we look past spending toward the real root of the problem: healthcare costs.
Healthcare Costs vs. Healthcare Spending
What's the difference? The difference is in who pays what. In 2010, federal health care spending represented nearly a quarter of the total federal budget, most of which was from Medicare and Medicaid.
From a budgetary perspective, the simple answer is to cut programs. This is why so many deficit reduction plans propose Medicaid and Medicare cuts. If eligibility and benefits are changed, money will be saved.
Simple Answer ... Not So Simple
Unfortunately, the simple answer is not so simple. By way of analogy, if I don't have enough money to purchase food for my family, I can go to my local food bank. Even though the food is free to me, someone else is paying for it, most likely the foodbank. This is the essence of cost shifting and programs like Medicaid, made possible because of taxes.
Semro explains that "In the end, budget-cutting alone will only reduce federal spending by shifting the cost of health care to someone else's budget - state and local governments, businesses, families, seniors and individuals like you and me."
Federal budget cutting "can reduce health care spending, but the (health) outcome is not positive. If co-pays and cost-sharing are increased, if benefits are excluded, if eligibility is restricted, health care spending will be reduced because people will have less access to health care or they will put off seeing their doctor to save money."
Make a Commitment
Saving money is all we want to do, no matter if the we is you and me or the we the people of our government. To begin, make a commitment: don't just wait for a better healthcare system to appear. Take charge of your health and be a champion for others so that when your card is drawn in the next game of Personal Health Surprise, you don't end up with something that could have been prevented.
Tell your elected officials that you want a system that is accessible, affordable, and there for you when you need it most. Tell them that you know cuts must be made, but they don't have to be made on health.