Christopher F. KollerJune 10, 2004 - 9:52am0 comments
Consider Walter. At seventy, he has a history of high blood pressure, heart trouble, high cholesterol, stomach pains, and seasonal allergies. He used to smoke but gave it up a while back. He is only moderately overweight. For his various ailments, Walter has a variety of prescriptions from his doctor. His real problem, however-as for 26 percent of his fellow Americans, particularly the elderly, those most in need of medications-is that Walter has no insurance coverage for his medications. Medicare does not provide it.
Drug coverage makes a real difference in people’s lives, for two reasons. Those who have it use prescriptions at a 50-percent higher rate than those without it, presumably to their benefit; and people without it spend on average $220 more per year for the few drugs they do get. Combine these facts and you have a recipe for not only moral but political outrage. Hence the increased attention being paid to a drug benefit for those on Medicare.
Yet there is something else at work here. Only eleven years ago, the percentage of Americans with no drug coverage was almost twice as high (48 percent) as it is today. By most measures of equity, then, things have gotten better: more people have coverage, and-for advocates of smaller government, something even more positive-this improvement has come about through private health insurance.
So why has drug coverage become a national issue? In...