You’d have to be living in the backwoods of Appalachia these days not to know that the price of gasoline at the pump has reached an all-time high—and this is just the start of the summer driving season, when gasoline prices continue to climb. Refineries produce only so much gasoline for public consumption. Like any limited resource, the more you use, the less there is left for the next guy in line.
While waiting at the traffic light yesterday morning, I noticed an oncoming vehicle as it slowed down and coasted smoothly around the corner—a large shiny white Hummer. Hummers populate the streets of Baghdad these days, and lately our streets at home seem to be following that trend.
During the Arab oil embargo in the ’70s, people waited in lines at service stations. The price of petrol escalated as folks scrambled to replace their gas guzzlers with lighter fuel-efficient vehicles. At the time I drove a Volkswagen bug—the “people’s car.” I don’t remember how many miles to the gallon it got, but I ran it on the cheap and it got me where I needed to go.
In some respects our healthcare system is similarly structured. Like gasoline, there is only so much health care (measured in dollars, doctors and facilities) to go around. In theory, the less the availability, the more expensive the service—but even with improved access, the price doesn’t necessarily drop.
Now, just this morning, new light has been shed on our twisted system of healthcare costs. An article in today’s New York Times (14 June 2007) divulges a little-known fact: there is not necessarily a direct correlation between the cost of health care and the quality of that care. Published data show a wide discrepancy in the cost of coronary artery bypass graft surgery performed at Pennsylvania hospitals in the Philadelphia area. Moreover, they demonstrate little correlation between the cost of the procedure and patient outcome. Hospitals that delivered the best care, as evidenced by low mortality rates and shorter stays, received less payment for their services—in some instances less than half.
Although a Hummer will cost you considerably more at the dealer as well as at the pump, a reliable VW bug would get you where you needed to go—at considerably less expense all round.
Too bad the original VW bug has become obsolete.