First published on 5/2/11 on the Forbes Blog
In the near-decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the “War on Terror” has cost the United States about $1.3 trillion, according to the National Center on Defense Information.
By comparison, it took just six months for the U.S. to spend that much money on health care, based on the $2.5 trillion spent in 2009.
Why does that comparison matter? Because as health care costs rise, they have begun to crowd out the money available in state and federal budgets for elementary and secondary education, infrastructure and other pressing human needs. The War on Terror isn’t going away and, in fact, may increase in intensity in the short term if fears of Al Qaeda retaliation prove true, so we won’t be de-funding the military to provide to get money to shore up crumbling bridges, roads and schools.
A 2009 report from the Office of Management and Budget put it plainly: “The Federal Government’s long-term fiscal shortfall is driven primarily by escalating health care costs…These growth rates are simply unsustainable and are why slowing the growth in health care costs is the single most important step we can take to put the Nation on firm fiscal footing.”
David Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller General turned crusader for fiscal responsibility, has said repeatedly, “If there’s one thing that could bankrupt American, it’s health care costs.”
Perhaps some of the patriotic unity inspired by the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden can carry over to the efforts to responsibility control health care costs and preserve what makes America great. Not very likely – but, hey, one can always dream.
Michael Millenson is President of Health Quality Advisors.