Saturday, March 03, 2007

not a time to put head in sand

If you have a moment, go take a look at the editorial in last month's AARP Bulletin: Divided We Fail. It gives some frightening data:
The fastest-growing item in this year's $2.8 trillion federal budget is the $249 billion we pay for interest on the national debt. That figure has grown 35 percent since 2005.

The combined costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the foundations of health and economic security for older Americans — are on track to grow from $1.1 trillion in 2006 to $2.27 trillion in 2016. At that rate, funds set aside for Social Security will be exhausted in four decades—within the life span of half of today's boomers. Medicare's finances are even more precarious; the program's trust funds could vanish within a decade.

Half of our country's workers lack pensions or aren't adequately saving for retirement.

Sixteen percent of the national economy is consumed by health care. The number of people without health insurance has grown to 46.6 million.

Compared to other industrial nations, all of which have government-financed systems, the per capita health spending in the United States ($6,102) is about twice as high as in Canada ($3,165), France ($3,159), Australia ($3,120) or Great Britain ($2,508), according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet our life expectancy is lower (77.5) and our infant mortality rate is higher (6.9 per thousand births) than in these other four industrialized nations. Still, any attempt to effect change has been derailed.
In mid-February, Steven Pearlstein addressed this last issue -- the inefficiency of the US health care system. He says the reason the system has been so resistant to change is that "powerful interests do very nicely with things just the way they are." Using a recent study, Pearlstein puts a price tag on the amount of inefficiency. The pattern of spending in the US is $477 billion higher than is the pattern in 13 other advanced countries. "That staggering waste of money works out to 3.6 percent of the nation's entire economic output, or $1,645 per person, every year." The article then gives details on where the extra costs lie.

Altogether, the AARP editorial and Pearlstein's column point to the immensity of the challenges that face the newly Democratic congress and the whole of our government.

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