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How health care controls us

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If we learned anything from the bitter debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — which seems doubtful — it is that we cannot discuss health care in a way that is at once compassionate and rational. This is a significant failure, because providing and financing health care have become, over the past half-century, the principal activity of the federal government.

If you go back to 1962, the earliest year with such data, federal health spending totaled $2.3 billion, which was 2.1 percent of the $107 billion budget. In 2016, the comparable figures were $1.2 trillion in health spending, which was 31 percent of the $3.85 trillion budget. To put this in perspective, federal health spending last year was twice defense spending ($593 billion) and exceeded Social Security outlays ($916 billion) by a comfortable margin.

The total will grow, because 76 million baby boomers are retiring, and as everyone knows, older people have much higher medical costs than younger people. In 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people 65 and over had average annual health costs of $10,494, about three times the $3,287 of people 35 to 44. Medicare and Medicaid, nonexistent in 1962, will bear the brunt of higher spending.

At a gut level, we know why health care defies logical discussion. We personalize it. We assume that what’s good for us as individuals is also good for society.........

© Washington Post