Op/Ed

Editorial: Soaring health care costs

ANGELO LYNN

With the world’s problems at everyone’s doorstep each morning, or at their fingertips any time of the day, it’s little wonder that news about the cost of healthcare has dropped out of sight. Pre-pandemic it was one of the nation’s top concerns, but since then it’s now somewhere below several world-grabbing stories, including: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a potential third round of the coronavirus (the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron), the GOP’s ludicrous, but continuous, backing of Trump and his incessant campaign of lies and deception, climate change and it’s increasingly dire impacts, supply chain disruptions, lack of housing and a labor shortages all over the country hindering the overall economy.

That healthcare costs are up is just another ho-hum concern, right? As in, what’s new?

And that’s part of the problem. Health care costs have been skyrocketing for so long that it’s hardly front-page news and rarely even makes it onto regular TV news clips, in which they have about 7 minutes (4-6 stories at best) to convey the day’s news — and the first 90-seconds of that will be an update on the Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

Which is partly while Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer has an hour-long presentation he’s taking on the road throughout the state to bring greater notice to the issue. On March 10, he brought his shock-and-awe presentation to Bristol with effect. As is his style and practice, he wowed the audience with number-based facts:

  • Between 2000 and 2018 the cost of healthcare services in the United States increased by 120%. In Vermont they increased by 167%. Hoffer estimated that if Vermont’s health care costs had only increased “at the already absurd rate of the U.S. average, we would have saved — are you ready? — a billion dollars, in 2018 alone.”
  • During the same period, Hoffer pointed out, state appropriations grew by only 68%. Even spending for natural gas (104%) and housing and utilities (104%) grew at substantially lower rates than spending for healthcare services in Vermont.
  • In 1997, Vermonters spent about the same proportion of their income on state and local taxes as they spent on healthcare services: roughly 11%. Twenty years later, in 2017, they were still spending less than 12% of their income on taxes, but they were spending nearly 17% on healthcare.

So for instance, by the Independent’s calculations (as computed by reporter Christopher Ross), a Vermonter in 1997 making $30,000 a year spent about $3,300 of that on state and local taxes, and $3,300 on healthcare services, give or take a few dollars. In 2017, taxes on that same income had increased almost $300 a year to nearly $3,600. Spending on healthcare services, on the other hand, went up by $1,700 to roughly $5,000.

  • Between 2000 and 2019 hospitals’ net patient revenue grew by 214% while Vermont’s median hourly wages grew by only 61%.

And that’s the just the iceberg’s tip in terms of compelling information, the rest of which reporter Christopher Ross covers in his front-page story, and of which a video recording of Hoffer’s meeting in Bristol can be viewed at Northeast Addison Television.

The upshot of Hoffer’s presentation is that the state’s health care costs are staggeringly high, far above average for the nation, and that the only way to bring it down is for the public to pressure legislators to do something about it.

Is this Hoffer encouraging the public, to tilt their javelins at yet another windmill? Perhaps. But primarily, it’s Hofer doing research on a problem he thinks the public should be concerned about and is bringing it to their attention. It they chose to fight the battle, that’s up to them, but at least in bringing the issue to the forefront and providing facts on which the public can base their opinion.

Angelo Lynn

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