Figures Don't Lie

Many years ago, my Uncle Wes was listening to a political commentary on the evening news. About halfway through the piece he got up, turned the TV off and told me: "Figures don't lie but liars sure can figure" This Blog is dedicated to setting things right about a few of the numbers tossed around in today's political discussions.

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Location: Bloomington, Minnesota, United States

How old am I? Well, for much of my career, I had a secretary. And, my best secretary could take shorthand.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reasonable Voices in the Health Care Discussion

The anger and "wee-wee" present in Health Care reform discussions taking place this month has begun to lead to some interesting proposals. Not in Congress, of course, but in the Idea Marketplace.

Two thoughtful pieces have emerged in major publications. The ideas don't fit in thirty-second sound bites, however, so you won't get them on the evening news. Set aside a block of time to read this lengthy piece in the Atlantic by David Goldhill. Goldhill is a business man who has actually paid for health care coverage for his employees as well as seen all the warts in the current system. This is a long piece, but well worth the read!

He pitches some excellent numbers into the debate including the fact that

Let’s say you’re a 22-year-old single employee at my company today, starting out at a $30,000 annual salary. Let’s assume you’ll get married in six years, support two children for 20 years, retire at 65, and die at 80. Now let’s make a crazy assumption: insurance premiums, Medicare taxes and premiums, and out-of-pocket costs will grow no faster than your earnings—say, 3 percent a year. By the end of your working days, your annual salary will be up to $107,000. And over your lifetime, you and your employer together will have paid $1.77 million for your family’s health care. $1.77 million! And that’s only after assuming the taming of costs! In recent years, health-care costs have actually grown 2 to 3 percent faster than the economy. If that continues, your 22-year-old self is looking at an additional $2 million or so in expenses over your lifetime—roughly $4 million in total.

He also contributes some worthy thoughts on the volume of profits involved in our present system:

For fun, let’s imagine confiscating all the profits of all the famously greedy health-insurance companies. That would pay for four days of health care for all Americans. Let’s add in the profits of the 10 biggest rapacious U.S. drug companies. Another 7 days. Indeed, confiscating all the profits of all American companies, in every industry, wouldn’t cover even five months of our health-care expenses.

Ah, those evil profits. Have you ever noticed that people who disparage profits always quote a number? For example, "x billion dollars!" Never a percentage such as 2% of sales. For most businesses (yes, even the oil companies) consumers would be hard pressed to find the difference in their prices if profits vanished or doubled. In fact, most companies' profits are less than the payroll tax levies they pay on their employees wages. Virtually all are far less than the toll of employee withholding confiscated from the workers in the company. Profits come in volume similar to lubricants versus ink in a printing press - and serve the same function.

For a shorter piece that covers some of the same areas, read Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey in this very informative opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Mackey presents eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone. Once again, the thoughts come from someone who pays the bills for health-care.

For venturing forth with reasonable thoughts, of course, Mackey gets threatened with a boycott. It seems like there is a lot of "wee-wee" to go around.


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