Things That Cost Too Much and Should Be Free

Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post that health care costs and college costs are very similar. They’re really high, and no one has been able to keep costs down. As he writes:

Like the health-care sector, the higher education sector is heavily subsidized by the government. Some take that commonality as a causality: Health-care and college costs are out of control because the government subsidizes them. I think the truth is closer to the reverse: The government subsidizes them because their costs are out of control.

Health-care and higher education are similar in another way, too: People don’t think they can responsibly say no to either expense. Families take out hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to pay medical bills and tuition costs. The only other cost that’s anything like that is housing — and it’s a much more optional expense. You can buy a house on your schedule. Health-care costs and your child’s 18th birthday tend to be somewhat less cooperative.

The two sectors are fundamentally unlike normal things one buys because one can’t really say no. One can’t responsibly refuse to buy health care or education and leverage that refusal to reduce costs.

Technology could, in theory, reduce the cost of both things, but it’s not likely to happen in any dramatic fashion any time soon.

Technology is also not the also not the cost control mechanism favored by any nations that actually have high quality, inexpensive education and health care.

As Klein writes: “In other countries, they deal with this pressure by mainly having one buyer: the government. That’s how single-payer health care holds down costs, for instance. The government says no on behalf of all the people.”

Let’s see how far that technology solution takes us.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer