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Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Government should do something about it
Cliches are good. They help us communicate certain ideas quickly and easily. Cliches are also bad. They allow us to communicate without actually thinking about what we're saying. If we're trying to rally soldiers in battle, the good outweighs the bad. But if we're trying to formulate public policy, then we should eschew them whenever possible.

What prompts these rather banal musings is that I've heard the phrase "We need to do something immediately! It's a crisis! Health care costs are rising," one too many times. (Okay, about 1,000 too many times, but that's beside the point.) I'm sure everyone in the country knows, by now, that "health care costs are rising." But what does that expression mean? Think about all the things it could mean. It could mean that:
  1. Doctors are charging more for their services than they formerly did.
  2. Doctors are charging the same amount, but individuals are using more of their services.
  3. Pharmaceutical companies are raising prices on their existing drugs.
  4. Pharmaceutical companies are introducing new drugs which cost more than the old ones.
  5. Individuals are using more drugs than in the past, as new diseases become treatable.
  6. We're collectively living longer, so we're getting older and collectively using more health care services.
Or any combination of the above. All of those could explain the observation about costs -- and several of them do. My point here is not health care policy, though. My point here is the discussion of that policy. Each of the issues above suggests different solutions. How is the public to understand and participate in the debate, even in the broadest terms, if the issue is portrayed to them, by the media and by politicians, so vaguely?

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