Jill Burcum: Health care vs. defense? Hard choices lie ahead

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2010 - 4:41 PM

With a Congressional vote on health care reform looming in the middle of this month, a thoughtful essay in the March 3 New England Journal of Medicine summed up nicely why the status quo really isn't an option:

"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that between 2009 and 2019, national health care spending will almost double, from $2.5 trillion to $4.9 trillion. If this projection proves accurate, health care expenditures will grow from 16.2 percent of the gross domestic product in 2007 to 20.3 percent in 2019, and public payers (government programs) will become the largest source of funding for health care in 2016. With such rapid growth of expenditures, one can imagine a scenario in which policymakers are forced to adopt far more draconian measures to slow health care spending in order to address more urgent claims on public resources, such as national defense, rebuilding of the military, and improvement of the education system so that the next generation can better compete in the global economy.''

The author's essay is John K. Iglehart, who is the Journal's national correspondent. He's also the respected founding editor of the Health Affairs policy journal.

Iglehart believes that passage of the health reform bill through the controversial reconciliation option will be "nothing short of a miracle.'' But the grim reality of the nation's mounting health bill means that if reform doesn't pass this year, Congress won't be able to kick it down the road for long. The really scary fact that Iglehart's essay doesn't mention? Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is on track to insolvency by 2017.

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