Friday, February 8, 2013

Reason #275: Progress?

For the record, Ezra Klein's Wonkblog is my new favorite thing, and not just because almost every article comes with its own thrilling graphs. Well, mostly because of that, but not just because.

The other day I came across an article describing how American households are now spending nearly as much on gas for their vehicles as they are on the vehicles themselves. What's surprising there isn't that gas is expensive, but that cars have gotten far more gas-friendly over the same period of time that the prices have been going up--the good news is, we're using far less gas per car, but the bad news is, prices are rising faster than usage is falling.

So that's not the greatest news, but it's an interesting example of how we can focus so much on one part of an issue--rising costs--that we can lose sight of others--improved fuel-efficiency.

Meanwhile, another delightfully-graphed article appeared at almost the exact same time explaining how, shock of shocks, out-of-pocket spending on health care as a portion of overall medical spending has plummeted to barely a third of what it was forty years ago. Meanwhile, private insurers' portion has increased about 50% to become the largest single share of spending, while the shares paid by Medicare and Medicaid, programs that the left is always complaining need to be expanded, have in fact roughly doubled. And for all the eye-rolling about the prescription drug industry, the percentage of spending devoted to drugs is also down a couple points--not an enormous change, but certainly not skyrocketing like many might think.

So just like with gas, on a philosophical level (how much citizens are forced to spend on their own health care) we are making enormous strides in the direction we should be going--at least according to progressive priorities. But the reality of the situation, actual out-of-pocket spending, is still so out of control that we can't appreciate the progress we are making.

But that doesn't mean we should lose sight of it.

Further Reading

Americans now spending most on gas since early 1980s

Patients’ share of health spending is shrinking. Yes, really.

How health costs wiped out a full decade of income increases

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