WASHINGTON — Milton Friedman was not only a brilliant economist — a Nobel laureate, in fact — he was also a gifted writer. In his 1962 book “Capitalism and Freedom,” he presciently explained how health care costs were going to leap out of control over the next decades. Sure enough, they did. They multiplied from roughly $1 of every $20 being spent on health care in the 1950s to roughly $1 of every $5 being spent on health care today.
Now we spend more than $3.5 trillion on health care annually, that is to say about $10,000 a person. The figure is projected to be $5.7 trillion by 2026, though as Friedman predicted, when the money is available, we always spend more — much more. Predictions of how many people will show up for free health care always miss the mark by a lot.
If you leave out China, Japan and Germany, today America spends more money on health care than all the other nations on Earth spend on everything, as Hunt Lawrence and Dan Flynn have been saying in their thoughtful analysis of American health care. It is getting worse. Something must be done.
The demand for health care is, as Friedman said, “elastic.” If money and time for it are available, patients will keep going to the doctor. They will go to the doctor in unimaginable numbers, or, shall we say, (SET ITAL) unbudgetable (END ITAL) numbers. This is the history of modern health care. As government makes available money to pay our health care bills, we spend the money, for it costs us very little, only time spent with the quacks.