A Secret to Better Health Care

Health care is at the center of the national policy conversation, and with the 2020 presidential election now in full swing, that is where it will probably remain. But for all the talk about how to increase access and reduce costs, we’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle: the inverse relationship between health care costs and spending on social programs.

One reason the United States spends more on health care than any other nation — more than 17 percent of gross domestic product, compared with an average of 9 percent for other advanced economies — is that we spend far less on social services like food stamps, free school lunches and public housing.

If our spending on social programs were more in line with other developed countries, our health care costs would fall. That means that as policymakers evaluate a social program, they should weigh not only its direct and second-order benefits — from reducing crime and recidivism to increasing productivity — but also its effect on lowering federal health care costs.

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