Well, somehow we did it. Despite a hard play from tea-party folks who were apparently willing to actually cut the baby in half, a last minute deal to raise the debt ceiling got done. Unfortunately, the markets haven’t taken the deal as a reason to be positive, and today alone the DOW lost over 500 points. World markets also took it on the chin, falling anywhere from 3.3 to 5.7%.
What is driving this continued fear? The reasons are complex, of course, but a major factor is the unsustainable level of social commitments (and therefore debt) for which many Western countries are responsible. And much of this is driven by health care costs. Despite generally embracing health care programs that are self-consciously rationing care, many European countries are struggling to meet the need of their huge social welfare system in this regard. Greece’s government, for instance, has a backlog of medical bills from 2010 and has failed to make payments in 2011. Spain has discovered “piles” of hidden health care debt that was previously unknown. Italy has instituted a large co-payment for its citizens to push back against its health care debt. And the UK has now started rationing “non-urgent” operations (like hip replacements and cataracts) for similar reasons.
Europe has started to make difficult decisions. Will the United States ever get to this point? Well, the writing is on the wall:
Unless we take steps to get our health care costs under control, Medicare and Medicaid costs will simply eat us alive. Sure, we can cut waste/fraud and make the system more efficient, but it is difficult to see what will stop the trend of people living longer and using more and more expensive technology to do so. I have argued in my book ‘Too Expensive to Treat?’ that Christians in particular should understand that the finitude of our natures and of our resources means that rationing health care is an inescapable feature of human existence. We must therefore do it explicitly if we wish (1) the rationing to happen justly and (2) to push back against the unsustainable trend in the above graphic. Appeals to ‘death panels’ and to ‘balancing the budget on the poor and seniors’ are the easy soundbites of demagogues who refuse to deal honestly with this ever-growing and ultra-serious problem.