According to a HuffingtonPost.com article, "When a patient arrives at Bayonne Hospital Center in New Jersey requiring treatment for the respiratory ailment known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she faces an official price tag of $99,690.
"Less than 30 miles away in the Bronx, N.Y., the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center charges only $7,044 for the same treatment, according to a massive federal database of national health care costs made public on Wednesday." (read more)
The problem with healthcare is that it isn't a marketplace in the usual capitalist sense of the term, where market forces work to keep prices low. Keeping prices low in health care is pretty much on the honor system.
When one needs health care, one typically doesn't shop around, especially when the need is urgent. One goes either to the nearest ER or where your doctor tells you to go. If you want to go somewhere else, there's a good chance s/he won't be one of the doctors who can practice there.
By contrast, when shopping for a car you can visit several different dealerships, get quotes, weigh whatever differences there are beyond price such as their reputation or extras they might throw in, and make a halfway intelligent choice, typically largely driven by how much you'll pay
This is the sort of capitalistic environment that functions to keep prices low in a normal marketplace. Health care functions in a very different way such that price competition hardly exists at all. Institutions that do try to keep costs down do so at their own peril, and may only be doing so due to the mandate under which they were created. For example, they may be run by a charity of some sort (yes, sometimes a religious charity) intent upon serving the community by keeping medical costs down.
What can be done?
"No wonder countries like Greece and Spain are in such miserable shape."
They are in miserable shape due to ineffective governments and structural deficiencies. Northern Europe is doing well, and have more expansive welfare states than club med.
"Economies cannot continue to grow forever"
Of course they can. You need to look into total factor productivity.
"promised Social Security benefits won't be there in a few years"
Social Security is funded through tax receipts, current or future. It's quite possible there will not be any left as the boomers spent their entire adult lives sucking the state dry by lowering their taxes and increasing their benefits. In the countries where the boomers were more successful in redistributing the inter-generational economic flows to themselves, the more dire straits these economies find themselves in today.
Is that what they taught you in Econ 1?
That is what they teach in undergraduate economics, yes.
No wonder countries like Greece and Spain are in such miserable shape.
Greece and Spain are nothing like the US. They don't have their own currencies. They can't devalue the Euro. They won't leave the Euro. They can't print more Euros. They can't borrow at low interest rates. They have to beg loans from other countries. They are staring at years of slow-grinding deflation or snail-like economic growth or zero growth. They CAN'T grow out from under their debt like the US can. They can only reduce deficits by making savage spending cuts and since spending IS the economy, that only makes their problems worse.
Amazingly, the Republicans want to do the same thing here in the US. The economy is starving, they point at the emaciated frame that was once Greece, and say, "Gosh! Perfect time to put the US on a diet! Greece proves it!"
We are not Greece. We are not Spain. The right-wing crackpots have said for years that we are about to turn into Greece and Spain but they keep being wrong.
Let's say you worked your ass off for 50 years as I did, saving everything you could for retirement, investing much of your savings in your government. And now your savings in your government can just go to hell, because they say, "We don't have to pay you back."
Social Security is not the national debt or the budget deficit. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security didn't cause our current problems, which are less about debt than about mass unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
That's why their promised Social Security benefits won't be there in a few years, because the bastards are borrowing against it as fast as we pay it in.
Nobody is "borrowing against" Social Security. The benefits will still be there "in a few years" and long after that. Social Security is 100% solvent until 2033 and after that it is 75% solvent until 2086. That is, unless the Republicans get their hands on it and turn it into an underfunded voucher program. Then you're fucked.
Because, there but for fortune go you. I understand why people resent having to pick up the tab for others, but they often seem to assume that fortune will always go their way. How does one prepare for health costs when one has no idea what they will be. There are, to my knowledge, no insurance plans without limits, exclusions, and other caveats. What if your insurance caps payouts at $1 million but your treatment costs $1.5 million? What if you lose your job or lose your ability to continue making premiums?
Actually, paying for the treatment of people who can't get or can't afford healthcare should keep costs down. Unless, of course, you think preventive medicine is so much hogwash.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.