Sunday, May 10, 2009

Learning about Health Care Limits from the Recession

I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking about how we in the U.S. can come to understand and accept limits on the health care we provide. My heroes in this effort have been public leaders like former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the U.K.

But an article in this morning's New York Times headlined "Shift to Saving May be Downturn's Lasting Impact" suggests that the current recession may inadvertently teach useful lessons about health care quite apart from the impact of educative leaders like Kitzhaber and Rawlins. Here's the relevant quote:
Whether for reasons moral or otherwise, consumers are already thinking a bit differently about their long-term budgets. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that many more Americans had begun regarding products like microwave ovens as luxuries rather than necessities...

"People are realizing they can’t accumulate everything they want anymore, and they’ll have to prioritize more...That may be hard for a lot of brands — figuring out not only how to get considered by consumers, but put at the top of their list.”

...A recent Gallup poll found that most Americans who have recently increased their savings believe their budget adjustments represent a “new, normal pattern for years ahead.”
Until I read this article I hadn't connected the dots between the facts that (a) the U.S. has had the world's lowest levels of savings and (b) the world's highest per capita levels of health care spending. I may be slow but I've finally gotten the point - our ways of thinking about health care are part of our ways of thinking about the wider economy and whether it is possible to get all we want! And since our profligate health system achieves relatively poor results, we may find that increasing our savings is good for our health as well as for our personal budgets.

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