On Measuring the Cost of Health Care Reform

Several months ago, completely by chance, I found myself seated on a plane ride from Washington, DC to Atlanta directly next to a very staunch conservative Congressman from Georgia. We had a fascinating conversation. Though I have strong left-leaning opinions, I decided mainly to ask him questions and to listen to his ideas and solutions.

He explained that his two greatest concerns as a Congressman have always been tax reform and health care reform. Health care resonates deep within his core due to the fact that he is also a physician. I asked him what he views as the fundamental problem facing the nation's health care system and what his solutions were.

The previous day, President Obama had given a speech outlining his key imperatives for health care reform. As I listened to this Congressman, his ideas rang very familiar to me. They sounded exactly like the key points President Obama had outlined: reducing health care costs for families and small businesses; insuring as close to 100% of Americans as possible, particularly all children; creating more opportunity for choice; investing in prevention.

I mentioned to the Congressman that his ideas sounded very similar to what I had heard from President Obama so I couldn't figure out why Republicans were so opposed to the bills being floated in the House and Senate. His response was merely that President Obama was lying and that the President wanted government to control the lives of Americans. The Congressman then proceeded to rant about how expensive the bill was and about how much money it would cost future generations.

Last week I was thrilled to witness health care reform become a reality. It amuses me that we continue to hear the same exact talking points from Republican after Republican: the cost of this bill will be trillions of dollars; our kids and grandkids will pay for it, etc., etc., etc.

First of all, the cost of the wars we were duped into post-9/11 have and will continue to cost trillions of dollars and our kids and grandkids will certainly pay for those costs for decades to come. The Republican response I often hear is "Well, that's different, that protects our country."

The reason we fear a terrorist threat or war is that people die from these acts. And because it leads to death, there is a willingness on the part of Republicans to spend oodles of money on defense.

Our health care system in its current state has led to countless deaths that could have been saved and that should have been avoided. I suspect that every American knows of at least one person who has died sooner than they should have as a result of inadequate health care coverage leading to a lack of quality preventative care.

So how do we measure the cost of health care reform? The cost of health care reform cannot be measured solely based on absolute monetary cost. Opportunity cost must be factored into the equation. The opportunity cost of remaining with the status quo and avoiding health care reform involved significant costs both in terms of monetary value as well as emotional costs that tear at the human psyche and that ultimately affect macroeconomic factors such as overall work output and productivity.

For instance, if someone's mother dies at 55 years old because she lacks adequate health care and, therefore, has not received simple, preventative care that would have caught cancer early enough for her to have survived, there are substantial costs involved. First of all, there is the emotional burden cast upon that woman's entire family who has to deal with the loss of a loved one. Let's assume this woman could have lived to 85 years old had her cancer been detected early, that would be 30 more years (or at least a solid portion of that time) when she would be contributing tax dollars to the government. And, of course, that would be 30 more years that her family could spend with her, which is positive on many levels (unless her family can't stand her. . . then the status quo probably works in their favor!).

From my perspective, Republicans in the House and Senate are holding so fast to ideology that they fail to offer any solid solutions. The opportunity cost of sitting on their hands and not pushing forth a change to the broken health care system was massive and they should've understood that. Republican ideology has morphed into fictional mythology, and I believe it will cost them dearly this November.

My grandfather once said "If you can pay with money, you're doing well in life." What he meant was don't ever pay with your body or with your soul. When analyzing and measuring the true cost of health care reform, we must take into account the opportunity cost on bodies and souls as well as the monetary cost incurred by both action and non-action.