The nation's chief economist says the cost of health
care will claim an increasingly larger share of consumer and government
spending, unless something is done to curb it.
Speaking at a Health Reform Summit in
Washington on Monday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said improving the
nation's health care system is one of the biggest economic challenges facing
the United States. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
technologies and treatments are allowing Americans to live healthier and more productive lives. But improving quality of life is becoming
more expensive. Federal Reserve Chief
Ben Bernanke told a meeting of health and government officials that without
reforms, the cost of health care could spiral out of control.
capita health care spending in the United States has increased at a faster rate
than per capita income for a number of decades,” Bernanke said. “Should that trend continue, as many
economists predict it will, the share of income devoted to paying for health
care will rise relentlessly."
now spend more on health care than for housing or food. Government estimates show that by 2020,
health spending will exceed 22 percent of the nation's gross domestic output.
A major challenge is that 47 million Americans don't
have health insurance. Bernanke says it is a problem that costs federal and
state governments about $35 billion a year.
continue limiting the effects of rising medical costs on household budgets, the
government may have to absorb an increasing proportion of the nation's total
bill for health care, putting even greater pressure on government budgets than
official projections suggest," he said.
are proposing a system of universal health care with the costs shared by all
Bernanke did not offer specific solutions, he said the challenges are daunting.
"Because our health care system is so complex, the challenges so diverse,
and our knowledge so incomplete, we should not expect a single set of reforms
to address all concerns. Rather, an eclectic
approach will probably be needed," he said.
declined to comment on interest rates or the state of the U.S. economy. But the Fed chief said exploding costs for
Medicare (for elderly people) and Social Security programs could damage the
country's long-term vitality and hurt economic growth and stability.