A failing grade in basic mathematics

Have even one in a thousand North Americans ever heard of Kissick’ s Law?  More than 25 years ago, if you were reading the Ontario Medical Review, you would have seen an article, written by Dr. Samuel Vaisrub, explaining the message. Kissick stated that if the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written in contemporary times, it would declare the pursuit of health, rather than happiness, after life and liberty, as the third inalienable right of Americans.

About 50 years ago Kissick, a professor at the renowned U.S. Wharton School of Business, stunned Canadians and Americans with a showstopping speech about the economic laws of health care economics. Considering the ongoing healthcare mess in both countries today, it’s a shame his wise council never took hold.

What did Kissick recommend? It was about what every family in North America knows. If you spend more than you earn, soon enough the laws of economics will trigger bankruptcy. Kissick’s warning was simple arithmetic. Readers should get up, find a pen, and write this principle down over and over.

No society in the world has sufficient money to provide all the healthcare services its population is capable of using, Kissick warned. But he was not finished, so keep you pen handy and keep writing.

He added that even if the nation’s gross national product were expanding at record-setting rates, it would still not be enough. People have a voracious appetite for spending on their health. If left to the forces of demand, healthcare spending would consume the nation’s entire budget.

He said the problem was similar to giving his credit card to his daughter and saying, “Darling, go buy anything you want, and I will pay all the bills.” Kissick hesitated for a moment, and then added, “If what I have told you doesn’t alarm you,” he said to the audience, “I’ll loan you my daughter!”

Economists have been saying the same thing. For decades, healthcare spending in many places around the world has been outpacing economic growth. It’s simply not sustainable. We are no longer approaching the time when we will be forced to accept the consequences. We have reached it. The pursuit of healthcare has limitations. Our collective psyche must face the reckoning. We will have less, not more, healthcare spending. And if refusing to accept this, then we will have worse roads, backed-up sewers, poorer education, and you name it, a lot less to invest in everything else that we like to take for granted.

An old joke offers the definition of a healthy person.  It’s someone who hasn’t been seen by enough doctors or had enough tests done. And this is true. Inevitably, everyone will find one health problem or another.

But being obsessive about health, always wanting more and more care, is neither advisable nor feasible. As governments face the hard reality of cancelling their healthcare credit cards, you can be sure they’ll never tell you straight up about it. Voters don’t want to hear about it, especially that enormous cohort of the population that is aging into retirement years.

There is a better alternative. People should be less obsessive about healthcare and more determined to avoid the need for it. The human body is an amazing organism, but only if not abused by cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, both legal and illegal, by junk food, by lack of exercise, and by the long list of environmental and other global problems.

Can we make the shift? Or do we need to pray for divine intervention to avoid this disastrous train wreck.

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