Will we be better off under ObamaCare than we were two trillion dollars ago?

One of the claims used to justify ObamaCare is that lack of health insurance results in approximately 45,000 otherwise-preventable deaths per year.  There’s a lot to not like about the statistic, but let’s assume, arguendo, that is it accurate.

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimate, ObamaCare will cost $1.93 trillion over the next ten years an will leave thirty million Americans without health insurance  (and paying a tax for that privilege of not having health insurance).  Assuming that the uninsured are not that demographically different than the current uninsured (i.e. they are equally as likely to die from not having health care coverage, and are not healthier nor wealthier than the current uninsured), then 27,000 people per year will still be dying for lack of health coverage.

However, ObamaCare will also result in other needless deaths. The seven hundred billion dollar raid of Medicare will result in 40,000 additional deaths per year.

That 2.3% medical device tax will increase costs to the patient (and the government) and reduce medical innovation.  In fact, that reduced innovation and increased costs will result in a loss of one million life-years annually. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, a loss of one million life years means that if you add up all the people who die an early death, then add up all the years of early death, e.g. a newborn with an 80 year life expectancy would lose 80 life-years, you arrive at one million.)  Estimates of how this breaks down among the population are hard to come by: this could kill about 12,000 newborns every year, or it could deprive a million seniors of their final year of life, or anything in between.  Let’s estimate on the low side and say that every person who dies from lack of medical device technology is a young whippersnapper, and therefore, loses fifty life-years.  One million divided by fifty is 20,000 – so let’s add another 20,000 (but in reality, probably more like 40,000 or 50,000) early deaths.

At this point, we’ve seen that ObamaCare saves 18,000 lives but ends an additional 60,000 lives, for an increased death toll of 42,000 lives per year.  (This does not factor in rationing, the effects of the IPAB, and the sad reality that the semi-free-market/private-pay U.S. is better at treating diseases than are countries with socialised medicine. It ignores the fact that we give medical care to all newborns, even the long-shot cases, and most other countries save money and improve their infant mortality rate by declaring those living, breathing babies to be “stillborn”. Semantics aside, many of those babies would live if born in the U.S.)

Now, if we were talking about saving 42,000 lives per year at a cost of $1.93 trillion, that would be a sticky question of how much a society pays to save lives in a technologically-advanced culture that could literally devote every cent it has to health care spending.

But we’re talking about two trillion dollars to end tens of thousands of lives prematurely.  Yes, Milton Friedman did say that if you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, it would run out of sand, but really? This morbid blogger must ask: can’t we institute a government programme that kills people for less than forty-six million dollars per death? If we must have this, this thing that costs a bunch of money and kills more people than it saves, can’t we just ditch ObamaCare, save a few trillion, and hire Paul Ryan to do the grandma-wheelchair-cliff routine that the Dems accuse him of? I bet the stingy bastard would even re-use the wheelchairs.

Update: if we manage to kill people for less than $46,000,000 per person, it will be because ObamaCare has the dubious success of increasing the denominator, not decreasing the numerator.

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Filed under Economics, ObamaCare

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