Health Care Equality

Robert Samuelson reports (HT: Greg Mankiw):

t is widely assumed that health care, like most aspects of American life, shamefully shortchanges the poor. This is less true than it seems. Economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution recently discovered this astonishing data: on average, annual health spending per person — from all private and government sources — is equal for the poorest and the richest Americans. In 2003, it was $4,477 for the poorest fifth and $4,451 for the richest.

Probably in no other area, notes Burtless, is spending so equal — not in housing, clothes, transportation or anything. Why? One reason: government already insures more than a quarter of the population, including many poor. Medicare covers the elderly; Medicaid, many of the poor and their children; SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), more children. Another reason stems from the skewing of health spending toward the very sick; 10 percent of patients account for two-thirds of spending. Regardless of income, people get thrust onto a conveyor belt of costly care: long hospital stays, many tests, therapies and surgeries.

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