We believe that limits must be placed on the costs of health care. Cost controls can be imposed in a manner that does relatively little harm to the health of the public. The rapidly rising costs of health care are in part created by scientific advances that spawn new, expensive technologies. Some of these technologies truly improve health, some are of little value or harmful, and others are of benefit to some patients but are inappropriately used for patients whom they do not benefit. Eliminating medical services that produce no benefit is one path to “painless” cost control (see Chapter 8).
Reduction in the rapidly rising cost of administering the health care system is another route to painless cost containment. Administrative excess wastes money that could be spent for useful purposes, either within or outside the health care sector. While large bureaucracies do have the advantage of creating jobs, the nation and the health care system have a great need for more socially rewarding and productive jobs (e.g., home health aides, drug rehabilitation counselors, childcare workers, and many more) that could be financed from funds currently used for needless administrative tasks.
There is a growing consensus that health care cost increases are bad for the economy. Employers complain that the high cost of health insurance for employees reduces international competitiveness. If government health expenditures continue their rapid rise, other publicly financed programs essential to the nation’s economy (e.g., education and transportation) will be curtailed and the unsustainable government budget deficits will strain the future of the nation’s well-being.
Rising costs are harmful to everyone because they make health services and health insurance unaffordable. Many companies are shifting more health care costs onto their employees. As government health budgets balloon, cutbacks are inevitable, generally hurting the elderly and the poor. Individuals with no health insurance or inadequate coverage have a far harder time paying for care as costs go up. As a general rule, when costs go up, access goes down.
For these reasons, we believe that health care costs should be contained, using strategies that do the least harm to the health of the population.