by Commissioner Steve Novick-- One of the biggest drags on our economy over the past 50 years - at the national, State and local level - has been the increase in health care costs. In 1968, we spent 8% of gross domestic product on health care. Today, it is 17 percent. That's far higher than in other industrialized countries. Here's one way of putting it into perspective: We spent about 4% of gross domestic product on K-12 education in 1968, and we still spend about 4% today - even though, in many ways, we expect a lot more out of our schools. The INCREASE in health care costs since 1968 is more than twice the TOTAL AMOUNT we spend on K-12.
Those rising health care costs are a burden on businesses, government, workers and families. If businesses didn't spend so darned much on health care, they'd be able to raise wages, invest more in research and development or charge less for their products. If government didn't have to spend so much on health care, governments could build more parks, do more for the homeless, pave more streets, reduce class sizes or raise wages. And if families didn't spend so much on health care, they could do tons of neat stuff too.
And if the City of Portland became #1 in the country at controlling health care costs, we'd have a big economic advantage over other places. Our existing businesses would have a leg up. We could attract new businesses by telling them their health care costs would be lower here, and that our schools and other services are better because we've redirected that health care spending to better services for the entire community.
(Not incidentally, if we were able to control health care costs by actually making people healthier, it would be a boon to City government itself, because it would reduce the workload of the Fire Bureau. The Fire Bureau these days gets far more calls about health-related emergencies than about fires.)
There are a lot of reasons health care costs are so high, and a lot of innovative ways that we can try to reduce them. (Note: "dumping costs onto employees" is not an innovative way to reduce health care costs; it's a cop-out.) City government itself can do a lot, for example by building more sidewalks to make it easier for kids to walk to school, which will make them healthier. We could build more bike infrastructure, to make it easier for people to bike to work and to the grocery store, which will make them healthier. Employers and workers can get together to design programs like the Atlantic City casino workers' union's wellness program/primary care clinic, which reduced the costs of the union's least healthiest members.
But one way we can all work to reduce health care costs is to take that simple step of getting our blood pressure under control. You can do that by diet and exercise, which is great. But even if you can't do that ... well, blood pressure drugs are cheap, and if you remember to take them, they work. In spite of that, 36 million Americans have untreated high blood pressure, even though 32 million of them have insurance.
So help me figure out how we can make Portland an economic powerhouse by reducing health care costs. And start by checking your blood pressure!