Snow Storms and Healthcare

No, this is not about getting a heart attack from shoveling snow (though that is a real phenomenon). It’s about how the rising cost of health care is eroding the ability of state and local governments to fund investments in infrastructure. This becomes most apparent when that infrastructure is stressed, as it is, say, during a snow storm. Case in point: Boston.

As a former resident of “beantown” I can attest to the fact that snow is a constant part of the winter landscape there. We could always count on the first snowfall to come before Thanksgiving (and could never count on being done before April. I recall one depressing year where it snowed in May! So I was not surprised, and was even a little nostalgic, when I witnessed Boston’s second major snowstorm of the year last week. I was, however, surprised at how much the city struggled to cope with the snow, and in particular, how poorly the public transportation system held up under the circumstances. With another snowstorm this week, the system failed completely. I was in town taking an executive education course at the Kennedy School of Government about healthcare delivery, which got me thinking about the connection between a failing transit system and healthcare.

Here is a slide from one of the lectures, taken from a publication by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation:

AUSCULTATION IMAGE The Increasing Costs of Health Care Squeeze Out

What it shows is that state spending on healthcare in Massachusetts has gone up, while everything else in the state budget – education, infrastructure, public safety and more – has declined. As healthcare expenditures rise, it limits the ability of government to do everything else we want it to do, like making the trains run on time (or at all). Here is something from Commonwealth Magazine from 2011: “The MBTA [the public transportation authority in greater Boston] is severely underfunded with regard to maintenance and upgrades of the regional bus and subway system. On the Orange Line, 120 cars built between 1979 and 1981 need to be replaced. On the Red Line, 74 cars from 1969 are well past their useful life. More than half of the MBTA’s 82 commuter rail locomotives date to the 1970s, and nearly all are at or past the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan of 25 years.”

This is neither good nor sustainable. I think it is one more piece of incontrovertible evidence that we need to lower healthcare costs.

What do you think?

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