Hey, long life ain't cheap

New York Times on health care costs: Be thankful for what you've got

Published September 27, 2006 3:45PM (EDT)

One of the perks of living on the West Coast is that by the time I've finished spitting out my coffee after reading the latest nutty business column in the New York Times, the East Coast econobloggers have already sliced and diced it. And so it was this morning with the latest installment in David Leonhardt's ongoing series "Why things aren't as bad as you think they are, and how come you should be grateful for that."

Seriously, Leonhardt takes Tuesday's news that health care costs have spiked upwards another 7.7 percent in 2006 (noted here yesterday) and spins it as a positive, because, hey, modern medicine means we all get to live longer. So quit it with the cheapskate carping, already.

"Would you prefer spending an extra $5,000 on health care every year -- or losing ten years off your lifespan?" he writes.

This is a disingenuously bogus way to phrase the question. Dean Baker, as usual, cuts to the quick:

"As I've noted before, every other wealthy country enjoys longer life expectancies than the United States and they pay on average less than half as much per person."

Felix Salmon at Economononitor chimes in, noting that "Leonhardt is justifying a doubling of healthcare costs since 1999 by looking at an increase of 10 years in the average lifespan since 1950" and wondering "Does Leonhardt stop to wonder why these things are so expensive? Does he puzzle over the fact that Americans pay much more for such things than the citizens of any other country? Does he propose that Medicare be allowed to negotiate drug prices, or -- to take an eminently sensible suggestion from Dean Baker-- that foreign doctors be allowed much more easily into the U.S.?"

To be fair, near the end of his column, Leonhard concedes that "The current situation is indeed unsustainable, a point the conventional wisdom has right. The cost of health insurance can't keep doubling every seven years, and wasteful spending... does need to be reined in."

Exactly. Which is what most everybody else who saw the figures on health care costs yesterday concluded. Shouldn't the point of a contrarian column be to prove the conventional wisdom wrong? Otherwise, what is the point?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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