Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stamps and "Free" Medical

Some people are clamouring for the federal government to take over health care-- supposedly to reduce the costs. If that were to happen, have you ever wondered whether or not the actual cost of health care will decrease, stay the same, or increase in the future?

There's a pretty simple way to guess how the costs of government-controlled services will rise or fall in the future. (Government costs never fall, by the way. The real issue is how much and how often the increases will occur). Compare them to the cost of a stamp.

Just take a look at the history of the cost of a first class US postage stamp. The federal government runs the US mail and postal service. The US taxpayer subsidizes those services in lots of ways-- as an example, the wages and salaries of postal employees are costs in addition to the postage you pay to mail something, while UPS or Fed Ex employees and truck expenses are paid from the money you pay them to ship something. So, ever-increasing US postage doesn't cover the real costs.

I recall writing a postcard to my sister back in the 1950s. It cost something like 2 or 3 cents to mail postcards. I was one cent short, so I taped an extra penny on the card with the stamps and the postman took care of it. Since then, the cost of postage has steadily climbed.

The U.S. Postal Service has announced that the price of a first class stamp will rise to 44 cents on May 11, 2009. Didn't we just have an increase in stamp prices? Still, even with subsidies the Postal Service lost $2.8 billion in 2008 and, unless the economy turns around, is headed toward much larger losses in 2009. There is no cost control because the taxpayer foots the bill.

Would the federal government likely reduce health care costs, keep them the same, or increase them exponentially? My guess is that the patient's out-of-pocket portion of health costs under a federally-controlled program would likely increase in addition to the increase in the taxes necessarily paid to subsidize the program.

The costs will never stop climbing. Look at the "forever" stamp. You can buy a "forever" stamp now for 42 cents, but the same stamp will cost you 44 cents after May 11. Huh? And how long before a first class forever stamp no longer mails one ounce, but just mails one-half ounce?

If only we could pay today for a medical services tomorrow. Instead, we're demanding services today which our children will pay for tomorrow. (Never mind the likely rationing and decrease in quality, which is another subject).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads up on the increase. Now I can use all those 1 and 2 cent stamps I have left over from last time. And what about those no-value stamps that have some value but you can't remember how much? I have several generations of those in my drawer. They should make law that you can't raise the postage till you have clearly-valued new stamps ready to go!
    AND: Ask someone working for Skagit County what happened to their medical coverage and costs when the commissioner's thought "self insured" was better than contracting with Group Health and Blue Cross.
    My friend at Information Systems at Island Hospital has some surprising views on health costs, but that's another article.