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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The Post on Government Health Care Spending Fails to Note that Other Countries Have Public Systems

The Post on Government Health Care Spending Fails to Note that Other Countries Have Public Systems

Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:34

Those who thought that the Washington Post (a.k.a. Fox on 15th Street) couldn't get any worse, have just been proven wrong yet again. The Post ran a little primer telling readers about Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The Post tells readers:

"a GAO report found that total government health-care spending in the United States is somewhere in the middle. In the United States, spending on public health was 6.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2005, while it was 8.9 percent in France, 8.2 percent in Germany and 7.2 percent in the United Kingdom. On the lower end of the spectrum, Australia spent 6.4 percent of GDP on health care and Canada spent 6.9 percent. Some of the countries that spend more have had a demographic shift to an older population sooner than the United States."


Okay, boys and girls, can anyone see the problem with this discussion?

That's right! All the other countries included in this discussion have public health care systems. The figures cited for public health care spending comprise the bulk of their national spending on health care. Only in the United States do we have a large private health care sector that spends roughly the same amount as the public sector.

This means that rather being in the middle of the pack, as this discussion implies, we are way over the top. To pay for most of the health care needs of our seniors and our poor, our government pays almost as much Germany, Canada, and the U.K. do to provide for the health care needs of their entire population.

Of course this point should have been central to this whole primer. The reason that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are projected to "usurp much of the revenue from federal taxes," is that health care costs in the United States are out of control. If the U.S. paid the same amount per person for health care as any of these other countries it would be looking at huge budget surpluses in the long-term, not deficits.

There is one other especially striking item in this piece. It told readers:

"The last major change to Social Security happened in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan raised the Social Security tax rate (the percentage of income under the maximum taxable earnings limit that is subject to tax) and the full retirement age from 65 to 67."

Umm, the year was 1983, not 1984. This primer is not ready for prime time.

Comments (8)Add Comment
What is more striking
written by MAS, May 05, 2011 11:03
What is especially striking is the assertion that President Ronal Reagan raised the Social Security tax rate. I always thought it was the Congress that determined tax rates.
written by coberly, May 05, 2011 11:04

they have no shame. but here are a couple of points i think need to be emphasized:

whatever the cost of medical care, Medicare is the safest and cheapest way to pay for expected costs in old age. Paying for those costs will not be crippling. They will be a larger part of a much larger budget. If we want to pay for the expensive care that will help us live longer and better, then we will need to pay for it.

Once the people understand that they are going to pay for it one way or another... and that they can raise their own taxes to do so... the ideas that it will "usurp much of the revenue from federal taxes" will be seen to be as stupid a statement as it is.

There is no reason that federal taxes have to be a fixed amount, or percent of GDP if we have more expensive things that need to be paid for and are best paid through government managed systems. And there is no reason that those things that benefit the people directly.. social security and medicare... have to be held to a fixed percent of a budget that is paying for other things whose benefit is not direct... especially when the "tax" for the direct benefits is separate from the general tax.

and a minor point: the author of the article sited doesn't seem to have clear in his mind the difference betweent he payroll tax rate, and the payroll tax cap. this could be ignored as a stumble in grammar, but it is indicative to me at least that most of the journalists, pundits, and even non partisan experts, don't know what they are talking about.
written by coberly, May 05, 2011 11:07
get rid of CAPTCHA. the "words" are too hard to read... unnecessarily so.
freudian slip
written by frankenduf, May 05, 2011 12:05
the 'mistake' of using "1984" reveals the Orwellian propaganda ploy- that is, the rhetoric to obfuscate the fact that the us pays much more for health care than other industrialized countries is to assert that the us pays less for health care than other industrialized countries
written by ellen1910, May 05, 2011 1:03
Not CAPTCHA but reCAPTCHA which should be tossed.

This time, it's readable but it wants an umlaut.
written by Fed Up, May 05, 2011 2:06
I agree with reCaptcha being too tough to read.
written by John Q, May 05, 2011 2:21
To MAS: "I always thought it was the Congress that determined tax rates."

Hmm. So they weren't the "Bush tax cuts" after all. Silly us to have been using that term.
In Fairness To The Government
written by Cujo359, May 05, 2011 8:51
While the government doesn't pay health care costs for everyone, it does pay the costs for some of the more at-risk portions of the population, like soldiers, seniors, the poor, and prisoners. Overall, they cover roughly a third of the population, the ones the insurance companies generally wouldn't want to.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.