The Health Care Walnut (updated)

Steven W. Dugger of Wichita, KS writes:

I enjoyed today's
article by Geoffrey P. Hunt, but I think he understated one of his points.

One of the reasons health care costs are rising is because the technology we have today allow us to live longer.  But that technology is expensive, and the better the technology is, the more expensive it’s going to get.   So, more and more, you’re looking at cases where the average person will not earn enough money in his entire career, to pay for the health care costs necessary to keep him alive for the last five years of his life.

What do you do then?

If our economy is to survive, there will come a point where we will have to let people die, just because there isn’t enough money to keep them alive.   I think that that moment in our history will place more strain on our morality then anything else, up to and including abortion.  Right now, our morality holds that life has infinite value.   The exception to this is abortion, but only a few think that the fetus’s life has no value.   This coming medical technology crisis is going to force us to look at the absolute financial value of a persons life and attach a monetary value to it.  

So the question is, will our society survive the moral crisis of that decision?

John Hockert writes:

Mr. Hunt’s article entitled “Why No One Wants to Crack the Health Care Walnut,” makes good points about insurance.  However he missed a crucial point about healthy living.  The fact is healthy living does not decrease health care costs, it defers and increases them.  A classic example is the push to get everyone to quit smoking cigarettes.  Statistics show that smokers generally die young after one serious illness (e.g., severe heart attack or rapidly progressing lung cancer).  On the other hand, non-smokers live to an old age, frequently requiring nursing home care, and are treated for six serious illnesses before they die.  Looked at over a life time, which one has the higher health care costs?  Obviously, the healthier non-smoker costs the health care system more.  Therefore, expecting promotion of healthier habits to decrease health care costs is foolish.  If we want to decrease health care costs, we need to encourage unhealthy habits.  The person who dies of a massive first heart attack at 40 is a small burden on the health care system.  The healthier person who lives to 80 with several coronary bypass surgeries, surgery and chemotherapy to treat prostate / breast cancer, and nursing home care is a much greater burden on the heath care system.

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