The Trouble With Healthcare Reform, In Numbers

It's a complex problem with a simple dilemma: Who will pay?

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It will be just like getting a complex diagnosis from the doctor: As President Obama and other political leaders intensify their battle over healthcare reform, they're going to bombard bewildered Americans with jargon about insurance exchanges, play-or-pay rules, and various formulas for tax credits, penalty fees, and income eligibility.

Anybody who’s ever filled out an insurance claim knows how complicated the healthcare system is. The reforms Obama is pushing will make it more so, at least for awhile. But there’s one fundamental problem that’s easy to understand: cost. The price of healthcare is rising faster than just about anything else in our economy, placing an unsustainable burden on individuals, companies, and even the federal government. That’s the main reason one-sixth of the American population—about 50 million people—don’t have health insurance. And when they seek care, it tends to be the most expensive kind—at the emergency room—which raises costs for everybody else even more.

[See what Obama must do before Stimulus II.]

Congressional Democrats’ first draft of a reform plan illustrates the cost problem: The plan would extend coverage to about 37 million uninsured Americans—but cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years. That scheme has landed with a thud, so newer versions of the plan will probably emerge, with a lower price tag. Still, the major battle over coming months will be over who pays for the healthcare we consume. Here are some stats that flesh out the problem:

Total U.S. healthcare spending: $2.1 trillion

Projected annual increase in spending through 2017: 7 percent

Projected overall inflation rate: 1.2 percent (through 2015)

Healthcare spending as a percentage of all economic activity: 16.3 percent

Projected in 2017: 19.5 percent

[See 6 small steps toward a more normal economy.]

Percentage of Americans covered by employer-provided plans: 61 percent

By government plans: 16 percent

By private plans: 5 percent

Uninsured: 17 percent (about 50 million Americans)

Percentage of large firms offering health coverage: 99 percent

Percentage of small firms: 59 percent (down from 68 percent in 2000)

Industries with the highest health coverage rates: government, manufacturing, transportation, communication, utilities

Industries with the lowest coverage rates: retail, service, health care

Percentage of uninsured who live in a household where nobody works: 19 percent

Who live in a household with only a part-time worker: 12 percent

Who live in a household with one or more full-time workers: 69 percent

[See 11 places with a worse economy than ours.]

Average amount of personal income spent on health care: 6 percent

On housing: 39 percent

On transportation: 20 percent

On food: 14 percent

On clothing: 4 percent

Healthcare spending as a percentage of income, for those earning less than $20,000 per year: 15.5 percent

For those earning between $55,000 and $70,000: 5.1 percent

For those earning more than $70,000: 3 percent

Average increase in employer-based health insurance premiums since 1999: 120 percent

Average increase in wages since then: 29 percent

Proportion of personal bankruptcies related to illness or medical bills: 62.1 percent

Increase since 2001 in the proportion of personal bankruptcies caused by medical problems: 50 percent.

Sources:; Congressional Budget Office; American Enterprise Institute; Urban Institute; National Coalition on Health Care; Kaiser Family Foundation; American Journal of Medicine

health care
Obama, Barack
  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at

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