Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Rise and Rise in Healthcare

Health care cost have been rising way over the cost of living for all us for many decades now. This is the case whether you are serviced by a public sector or private sector health service or a mixture of both (as is most common).
What is going on? Why are we paying ever more high costs for healthcare?
There appear to be a multitude of reasons to choose from: 
1. Drug and healthcare equipment inflation 
2. More treatments and more drugs being available 
3. Increased longevity 
4. Subsidised and insured health increasing demand 
5. More access to self-diagnosis/amateur diagnosis (internet) 
6. Healthcare more widely available in the third world making healthcare resources more stretched 
7. Increase in preventative care resulting in inevitable waste (providing healthcare for those who are not ill)

A long book could be written about drug inflation and that is just the first topic. However, this is surely more of a symptom rather than a cause of higher health costs. My hunch is that no.2 is the greatest reason for higher healthcare costs: increased availability for treatments.
The problem with healthcare is that it doesn't follow normal supply/demand patterns, especially in western countries. If we have eaten well then we can say we are full. Demand has been fully satisfied. However, healthcare is different; the goalposts are constantly on the move. There was a time when most people would only see a doctor if they we were too ill to function. Then we started to lower the bar to the point when even a mild headache could trigger a doctor's appointment (for some people at least). Then as our health improved more emphasis was put on measures we could take to prevent illness and live long and agile life. The goalposts are moving yet again with recent forays into cosmetic treatments.
I offer no judgements but merely observe. Surely it is a good thing that we are healthier? However if we are under increasing financial pressure and stress as we try to find money to pay for all of this, where should the line be drawn?
Does the stress caused by the higher cost of living makes us less happy? Is mental health being sacrificed in favour of physical health? We have a greater quantity of life but are we getting the quality of life to go with it?

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