As of writing this at about 3:45 pm Central time, it would appear that the White House has struck a deal with Rep. Stupak and other pro-life Democrats to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal funds being used for abortions. As a result, it would appear that the Senate bill will pass in the House, and will thus become law. Likely various adjustments to the bill will also pass in the House, but their fate in the Senate is less than certain at this time. Regardless, we have taken a step closer to government run health care today. While that step can be reversed (depending on, for example, the mid-term election results) it is of interest to consider how technology might play a role in our new, government run (but as yet unpaid for) health care system.
The impact of technology on private enterprise has been substantial. The productivity of the American worker has increased considerably over the past twenty years for example. Which means that the output of the individual worker has increased significantly over that time. However, the situation with regard to the federal employee is less clear. In one way, there would appear to have been little or no change in the numbers employed in government over the past twenty years, but this does not take into account the many people employed by Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are essentially fully funded by the federal government. There has been quite a lot of growth in that sector.
So, has the government embraced the productivity boosting possibilities of technology, or not? Growth in productivity over the past twenty years in the private sector has averaged about 2.5% per year. Put another way, if we consider the output of 100 people today and compare it to their output 20 years ago, they are producing about 63% more today. Or, to get the same output today as from those 100 people in 1990 we would only need 61 people. Apply that to the government, and we should be employing 39% fewer people in government today than in 1990 (not considering the NGOs at all) which translates to us having 800,000 more federal employees today than productivity increases might indicate. Hmmmm.
Of course, with the health care bill passing, we can expect the number of federal employees to increase in the coming years, instead of decreasing. Right away we will see more IRS workers, to keep track of all those fines, for example. But sadly, the record of government workers in health care is not good. In fact, when a fully implemented government health care system is in place, it is awful.
A story published this weekend from England (which has government run health care) indicates what might await us. For me, it resonated in particular. The story discusses how a hospital removed the wrong testicle from a patient, and then had to repeat the operation and remove the other testicle, leaving him totally infertile. When I was diagnosed with testicular cancer some six years ago, I had to have one testicle removed also. In an amazing piece of high tech, prior to going into the operating theater I was given a marker and told to write on my thigh indicating which testicle was to be removed. It appears that with government run health care as in the UK, such high tech solutions are, at any rate until now, too advanced to be implemented.
What we will all experience as a result of the votes today on health care remains to be seen. Many are already speculating not only on the medical implications, but also on the political, which may well end up being more important. I do hope however we end up, that high technology plays more of a role in our health care here than it has in other government run systems.