Today’s New York Times has an op-ed piece extolling some of the virtues of the Republican plan for health insurance; one take-away from it (featured by the NYT) is that “5 percent of Americans generate more than 50 percent of health care expenses.”
So what? Before I retired in 2002, my medical expenses were minimal. Since then, however, I have had a number of medical problems. In other words, the smug feeling I used to have about others who populated the health care system has given way to the reality of (what I should have known, as a statistically savvy person) the difference between cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Cross-sectionally, 50 percent is pretty scary, unless you realize that that 50 percent is primarily populated by the likes (and age) of me. Longitudinally, however, the data may show a different story, with perhaps 10 percent of the population never having major problems throughout their life, and have paid (as insurance should) for the difficulties that they luckily never experienced.
The author of the op-ed noted that his 93-year-old father “just received a $50,000 catheter-inserted aortic valve, which was covered by Medicare.” Is he suggesting that his father should have just sucked it up and lived in pain or in a wheelchair for the next few years of his life? Doesn’t he realize that Medicare is just what he recommends, that his father and those like him are using Medicare to “save their own money for just this sort of rainy day,” with the proviso that we may not all need that umbrella? Insurance, whether for cars or homes or health, is meant to spread the risk.