Today is a writing/reporting day for me, meaning I’ll be clattering keys and making calls, but not in the service of you, dear blog readers. But fear not — I have something else for you to take a look at.
It’s my friend Ron French’s long-awaited (by some of us, anyway) Detroit News project on how health care costs are strangling General Motors. But wait, wait, there’s a bigger picture here, and this is it:
Because of its aging work force and army of retirees, GM has reached a health care crisis before the rest of the country. But GM’s battle with the health care beast may well be a preview of what America will be facing in coming years.
GM has staked its future on an unlikely crusade against the most expensive and sloppy medical system in the industrialized world.
The fact that in 12 years those efforts have scarcely helped prompts a frightening question:
If health care costs are driving one of the most powerful companies in the world deep into financial difficulty, how bad will the health care crisis be for the rest of us?
Every American who pays attention knows that one reason the auto companies want to meet with President Bush is to sell him on a vision of nationalized health care. Here’s a figure, for example, that people in Detroit know by heart:
The price tag of every vehicle GM builds in the United States includes about $1,525 just for the medical care of the nearly 1.1 million Americans the automaker insures. Toyota’s health care tab for each vehicle it builds in Japan is $97; it’s $400 to $425 in the United States.
(Before you wonder why Toyota can do it for $425 vs. $1,525 for GM, I can tell you it’s because Toyota has only been building cars in the U.S. for a short time, relative to GM, and doesn’t yet have the army of retirees and aging workforce that GM does.)
Some of you know about my steady-gig editing job, which I do as well as freelance writing. At night, I farm news for a single corporate client whose business is health care. In addition, I’ve spent a lot of August and September writing stories about health care, some of which haven’t run yet. Both jobs leave me believing we have entered the age of miracles, real miracles. One of the people I interviewed, for a story in October’s Hour Detroit (on newsstands now — buy two, tell your friends), had minimally invasive cardiac bypass surgery, using a robotic surgical tool; his doctor sat in another room staring into a monitor, operating tiny instruments introduced not through a gaping wound in his chest, but through five holes, each the diameter of a pencil. Another doc, an oncologist, talked about the amazing advances in biotech-engineered chemotherapy drugs, resulting in therapy that’s less debilitating and more effective. Some of his patients used to choose death over chemo, and now some don’t even lose their hair.
“And a course of chemo drugs used to cost $500,” he said. “Now it’s more like $50,000.”
I’m so stupid (how stupid am I?), I’m so stupid I thought health care would be the No. 1 issue the last presidential election, after the war. Instead, it was whether John Kerry spent Christmas in Cambodia in 1969.
Well, don’t want to get off on a rant here. Ron’s a great writer, and it’s a zippy read. There are several sidebars, all of which can be accessed from the the main DetNews page.