Commentary: Health care reform economics

One of the main arguments against expanding affordable health coverage to more Americans is the price tag.

Taxpayers can't afford to take on a new obligation, opponents say, when the economy is still losing jobs and the deficit soaring.

But, really, the weaknesses in the economy are arguments for reform.

Until we put the brakes on health care costs, the economy cannot fully rebound. We will continue to suffer from bloated deficits, rising individual medical costs and a competitive disadvantage with advanced economies that have figured out how to cover all their people.

The biggest driver of the federal deficit by far — more than the wars, bailouts and stimulus — is health care. And it's only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers age into Medicare.

Without reform, Medicare Part A which pays for hospitalizations is projected to run short of money in eight years. The choices then will be higher taxes or lower benefits.

Health care costs that far outpace inflation and wages also drag down business and individual income.

We spend 44 percent more per capita on health care than Switzerland, the country with the second highest expenditures, and 134 percent more than the median for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

In practical terms that means health care costs add $1,500 to $2,000 to the price of every GM vehicle.

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