In the battle over Obamacare, critics have often focused on the effect that the health care reform law will have on employers. What tends to be largely ignored is the impact that the current health care system has on workers. It's no secret that health crises are the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcies in America, but it's worth asking how much health care actually costs -- and how that figure has risen in recent years.
Recently, Forbes contributor Chris Conover took an interesting angle on the problem by calculating the health care costs of the average worker. According to his figures, taking care of the average worker costs $8,953 per year -- the equivalent of 58 days of work.
Of course, only about 11 percent of this is paid out-of-pocket by the employee; the rest comes from insurance -- and even if you get yours as an employee benefit, that indirect cost is still a significant part of your pay package. Either way, the costs, both to workers and to the government, are stunning. A big part of the problem is that the American medical system focuses on expensive tests and therapies rather than overall wellness, making it more profitable for hospitals and doctors to treat health crises, rather than encourage healthy lifestyle habits.
To make things worse, there's the fact that a lot of health care money is wasted. According to the Institute of Medicine, 30 percent of health care dollars are sucked up by fraud, excessive administration costs, unnecessary or poorly delivered services, inflated prices, or missed prevention opportunities.
It remains to be seen how well Obamacare will be able to ameliorate these problems. Some experts estimate that the program will lower health care costs by encouraging the market to focus on illness prevention. For that matter, its Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is tasked with finding ways to cut the nation's medical bill, could also make the the system leaner. Then again, the current, profit-driven system didn't develop overnight, and it will likely take a concerted effort over the course of several years to turn it around.