Health costs lost on many Americans

President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden during a bipartisan meeting to discuss health reform legislation with congressional members at the Blair House in Washington, D.C.


Bob Moon: Tempers flared at times as President Obama and congressional Republicans faced off on health care today. But despite -- or perhaps because of -- the seemingly never-ending drama, a lot of Americans are greeting the debate with a shrug. Maybe because most of us just don't feel the full impact of soaring health care costs.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: President Obama brought up the issue of skyrocketing health care costs again and again at the summit.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let's talk about the substance, how we might help the American people deal with costs.

But many Americans don't have a good sense of those costs. Most of us get our insurance through our employers. The premiums are deducted automatically from our paychecks. We're disconnected from the cost of health care. Five out of every $6 in health care spending today is paid for by someone other than the patient. That is, your employer or the government, through Medicare or Medicaid. So...

DANIEL KESSLER: Nobody really cares about cost. And when that happens, then you get to where we are today.

That's Daniel Kessler. He teaches business and law at Stanford University. He says if people don't have to think about cost, they're more likely to ask for expensive tests that may not be necessary, and press for high-priced prescription drugs they've seen advertised on TV.

Glenn Hubbard says that puts a strain on the entire health care system. He's dean of the Columbia Business School, and worked in the Bush administration.

GLENN HUBBARD: Individuals will tend to, all else equal, consume too much health care. It's what drives up the cost of our insurance and our health care.

And, Hubbard says, it holds down our wages. He says if employers were able to spend less on health insurance premiums, many would pay workers more.

Hubbard also says Americans would cut out unnecessary care if they had to pay a bigger share of their health care costs. The tricky part is making sure that truly sick people don't delay care they need, because of the cost.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.


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