Look, if you put a bumper sticker on your car, I understand that to mean that you want other people to read it. If you do this, I suspect that it is well within my bounds to comment on it. So I was following a car two days ago that had this bumper sticker on it and we ended up parking at the same place. I asked the driver upon exiting the car two questions. First, I asked them how they have evaluated the success of the program so far.
The person (I wished I had my iPhone running) responded happily – “it has helped millions of people get insurance who were denied insurance previously.” In no mood to get into a debate, I simply nodded and said yes, I suspect that’s why a lot of people love it. For those not following at home, the Obamacare insurance provisions have not kicked in yet.
Second, I asked if she was familiar with any possible downsides of the law. She said, “no, not at all.”
In other news, I think we should be worried about the following data. According to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (I LOVE reading the magazine racks at the locations of our kids’ sporting events*), last year was pretty much a record year for elective cosmetic surgery. By my count from the infographic in the article I was reading, among the top five cosmetic surgical procedures in 2011, there were 1.1 million breast enlargements, nose reshapes, liposuction, eyelid surgeries and facelifts. Note that these were NOT procedures done after medical accidents. In addition, there were 10.7 million “minimally invasive” surgeries among the top five (things like Botox). So, assume that each person who gets a procedure actually gets two. From these two small lists alone, it appears that 5.9 million Americans had elective cosmetic procedures last year. The article said that there were a total of 14 million procedures.
Remember that there are about 200 million adults in America, so this represents a sizeable chunk of the adult population. I’d like to think about three aspects of this information (by the way, the article reports that these numbers were on the rise throughout the recession). First, have the costs of these procedures increased anywhere near the cost of “health care” in general? My hypothesis is that they have not come close. But I don’t have the data. Second, there would seem to me to be a lot of valuable human and physical capital tied up in this part of the “health care” sector. Can one imagine a future where doctors are forbidden to practice it and consumers are forbidden to consume it – you know – because we “need” the expertise and resources in the traditional sector? Third, despite my jeering sense at all of this, is it possible that these procedures, at current margins, do more for American well being than the marginal resources dedicated to the traditional health care sector? My two cents on that is again very much a yes. I don’t know whether that is reason to be sad, not at all.
* The data came from the September 2012 edition of “Talk About Healthy Rochester”