Seniors are mad that they have to pay more for drugs than Canadians do. Conservatives are mad that President Bush's new prescription drug plan will cost $100 billion more than he said it would. Small businesses are mad about the incredible booming premiums that make it expensive to hire new employees. Patients are mad about the intentional barriers to care that HMOs and doctors erect to discourage expensive "overuse." Doctors are furious at unrealistic reimbursements and skyrocketing malpractice premiums. Consumers are angry that, even after shelling out for insurance, they are constantly asked to shell out more for "uninsured" expenses.
(Personal digression: When I was 22, I had a baby uninsured. The out-of-pocket cost was about $5,000. A decade later, I had another baby, with blue-plate insurance (my husband worked for Morgan-Stanley). My out-of-pocket cost? $5,000.)
Candidates for both parties have their standard stump spins on the health cost spiral. Democrats long for national health insurance and denounce big drug companies for making "too much" money. The Republicans call for market reforms and limits on malpractice lotteries to trim soaring costs.
Neither side will tell you the truth about health care in an election season. The reason health care costs so much is that a) we have better health care, b) we are living longer, and c) older people have more medical costs. That's the good news. That's the bad news, too.
Paying more for drugs for the seven years that they are under patent protection is the price we pay for progress. Cut into the drug company profits now, and you will reduce the pipeline of innovative, life-saving drugs down the line.
Now, if you happen to need a drug that exists now, maybe that sounds like a good trade-off: less innovation later, for more affordable drugs now. But if you have, say, Parkinson's and are five years from a wheelchair and a painfully debilitating death, you don't want anything to slow the possibility of a cure. Ditto for any number of other diseases: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, AIDS. America's powerhouse inventiveness, driven by free enterprise (aka "profit-motive") is the last, best hope for millions of sick people around the world.
The good news is that modern medicine will save our lives. The bad news is: It's going to cost us all a lot more.