Krugman and Cheng at Labyrinth Books. (Photo courtesy of Labyrinth Books)
Uwe Reinhardt, Tsung-Mei Cheng, Paul Krugman, and the U.S. Health Care Crisis
By Donald Gilpin
Have you tried recently to obtain health insurance or choose a health care provider? Tried to find out the price for a procedure or surgery? Tried to understand the bill from your doctor or the statement from your insurance company?
More critically, have you been unable to afford a necessary surgery or crucial prescription in this wealthy country, where health care costs so much more and delivers so much less than the health care systems of every other advanced country?
“Confusion, ignorance, and misinformation are rampant out there,” said Princeton University Research Scholar Tsung-Mei Cheng, speaking with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman at an April 30 Labyrinth Books event featuring the recently published Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care, written by Cheng’s late husband Uwe E. Reinhardt, renowned health policy expert and Princeton University economics professor.
Emphasizing Reinhardt’s drive to combat the chaos, inefficiency, and, inequity surrounding health care in the U.S., Cheng, one of the world’s top experts on health care systems, argued that the real debate, and all the controversy over the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), though “conducted in the jargon of economics and Constitutional federal-state relations,” is not about economics and the Constitution at all.
“The heart of the debate,” for Cheng and for Reinhardt, “is a long-simmering argument over the following question on distributive social ethics: To what extent should the better off members of society be made to be their poorer and sick brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in health care?” she said. “That is the question. Social ethics was a big thing for Uwe.”
Health care could be the key issue in the 2020 election. Voters have consistently indicated that affordable health care is a priority, and health care reform bills continue to be debated in Congress.
The ACA, despite numerous court and legislative challenges, is still in effect, and Medicare and Medicaid continue to be popular. Health insurance is also available for most employees through their workplaces.
As the 2020 election approaches, Republicans are still calling for the repeal of the ACA, with few indications of how they would replace it. Democratic presidential candidates favor a range of proposals from single-payer (“Medicare for all”), a government-operated program like that of Canada and the United Kingdom; to various plans to improve on the ACA, including public option alternatives in which the private marketplace would be bolstered by some sort of lower-cost, public-sponsored insurance for those who cannot afford the market price for quality insurance. more