Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

America’s Health is America’s Business

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Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight.com:

Imagine what the American Trucking Association would say if the interstate highway system was a jumble of unconnected, poorly paved roads, every mile of which was nonetheless tolled at exorbitant rates. Think what the American Telemarketing Association would do if half the calls their employees dialed every day were abruptly disconnected because of faulty, unreliable telephonic infrastructure. And how quickly would the Direct Marketing Association, which relies on the U.S Postal Service, mobilize on Capitol Hill if millions of their mail pieces each day never arrived at their intended addresses?

In my Baltimore Sun column today, I ask the $7 trillion dollar question few seem to be asking, no less answering:

In October 2007, the Milken Institute published "An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease," a report analyzing the long-term economic costs of leaving unchecked just seven maladies: cancer, heart disease, hypertension, mental disorders, diabetes, pulmonary conditions and stroke. Comparing a scenario of "reasonable improvements in treatment and behavior" with a "business as usual" baseline, the report estimated that cumulative savings in health care expenditures over two decades, from 2003 to 2023, could total $1.6 trillion. That’s $80 billion saved per year – no small sum.

But those savings are dwarfed by the costs to the American economy caused by an unhealthy work force. "Chronically ill workers take sick days, reducing the supply of labor – and, in the process, the GDP," the report’s executive summary explains. "When they do show up to avoid losing wages, they perform far below par – a circumstance known as ‘presenteeism,’ in contrast to absenteeism."

Milken’s estimated cumulative loss to America’s GDP of doing nothing during the same period? Almost $7 trillion.

We wouldn’t tolerate $7 trillion sort of inefficiency and loss if resulted from a tax increase or proposed business regulation. Wouldn’t Grover Norquist and his gang be screaming tirelessly, perhaps with cause? Yet as a nation we sit back passively and allow our capitalist economy to be hobbled by solvable problems with the most important infrastructural input of all: the labors of the American workforce. What’s amazing is that American workers today work longer hours and are more productive than earlier generations of workers–despite our health problems.

When the government does or doesn’t do something that is bad for American capitalism, …

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2009 at 1:06 pm

One Response

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  1. The need for preventative efforts really cannot not be overstated if cost control is to be achieved, but unfortunately too many people get riled up when they are told what to do even if it will help them live longer and with better health. To combat all the medical conditions mentioned except mental disorders, lifestyle modification would go a very long way. A good diet and exercise would do wonders, but they take work and telling people that they should do something will get immediately promote reaction.

    If we could only use the power of our advertisers to this end, then we might have a chance.

    Wellescent Health Blog

    24 November 2009 at 9:27 pm


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