Redistribution of health

Redistribution of health

We were thinking of writing a column titled something like “47 Reasons Why Lists Are Lazy Journalism,” but we decided that would be overambitious. So instead we’re going to look at one list, “8 Facts That Explain What’s Wrong With American Health Care,” by Vox’s Sarah Kliff, and focus on a particularly silly item on it, No. 3 …  “Half of all healthcare spending goes towards 5 percent of the population.”

It sounds like a standard progressive-populist plaint about inequality: The wealthy are getting more than their fair share! On average (as of 2009, prior to ObamaCare), the top 5% “use $40,000 of health care annually. The lower-spending half of the population, meanwhile, spent a paltry $236 per person during that same year.”

Except it isn’t the wealthy vs. the poor. What these haves have isn’t money but medical conditions requiring expensive treatment. “High health-care spenders aren’t richer Americans buying up lots of health care,” Kliff acknowledges. “Instead, these tend to be the sickest patients.” Hey, go figure.

If the objective were to equalize the distribution of health-care spending, one could do it by subjecting healthy people to needless treatments. Or one could economize by rationing the expensive treatments so that the sick would get less care. Many Western countries follow the latter approach in a system known as “universal health care.”

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