President Obama is having his fourth news conference as I type. He is suggesting health care will cost us ten percent of our national budget if we do not gain control over costs. Is that a bad thing? How do we measure the health of our population against other priorities?
When President Eisenhower left office in early 1961 our country was investing about ten percent of our budget on infrastructure – public works projects. We built the interstate highway system and became the greatest economic power ever seen in human history. Today, 2009, public works projects consume about 2-3 percent of the national budget. With that decline in monetary support many believe our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling/ The History Channel special on the crumbling of America suggests our infrastructure will require 2.5 Trillion dollars to bring is up to acceptable standards. This writer agrees that our infrastructure is essential to our national security and future prosperity. And I like to drive fast on interstate highways.
About seventy percent of my property tax is invested in local public education. When the local school district asks for more money my vote is always in the ‘yes’ column. Why? Because I believe that good education is essential to a healthy society, to economic growth, and inoculates our children against all sorts of insanity – like religious cults, racism, and other forms of extremism. Without proper education of the masses Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert will lose their audience.
And how about that military machine Americans are so proud of? What does that cost as a percent of the total – 30%? 35%? I can’t keep track of military expenditures. I am pretty sure that we finance our troops all over the globe to protect the health and welfare of other peoples. How much do we invest in the safety of Europeans? Of Japanese? and now of Iraqis?
In every case we hope to control costs, to get the biggest bang for our buck. This should be the case in regard to health care. History informs us that a ten percent investment in infrastructure reaps great dividends. History informs us that large investments in education reap huge dividends.
What does history tell us about the economic value of a healthy populace? Every year we hear quotes about how much productivity is lost to sick workers. The statisticians even break the cost down in terms of specific illnesses. There are substantial costs for smoking tobacco, for alcoholism, for diabetes, for cancer, for heart disease. There are substantial costs for illnesses that are not diagnosed in early stages.
Republicans like to talk in terms of economic benefit – sadly, sick people are referred to in terms of their value to production. This argument is not illegitimate, but it does miss the moral point of caring for our fellow citizen.
Ten Percent of our budget invested in the health of our people does not seem out of line to this writer.