A Theory of Health Care Spending
For a good while, I've had a half-baked and only half-joking theory that health care spending would not be so high if we were not constantly reminded of all the things that could be wrong with us.
I watch or listen to television news in short bursts of a few minutes each throughout the day. My general impression is that well over half – perhaps even three-quarters – of commercials are disease related. To see if that is anywhere near true, I grabbed a book yesterday morning and settled down to spend a random hour with television to make notes on the topics of the commercials.
That much time was not needed. I was shocked to find that in the period of one, three-minute commercial break, remedies for the following diseases and conditions were advertised:
High blood pressure
That's a lot of health problems to cram into three minutes and it is repeated all day on all channels except, possibly, MTV which undoubtedly highlights acne cures.
I don't remember so many health-related commercials when I was a kid. “The heartbreak of psoriasis” comes to mind, along with “Speedy Alkaseltzer” and Bayer aspirin, but certainly no prescription drugs back then. I still don't understand why that last is done; it must drive physicians nuts to have patients demanding drugs advertised on television that may or may not be relevant to the patients' ailments.
My theory is that it all adds up – that we are bombarded with so many pictures and words about what might be wrong with us that thousands of people who otherwise feel healthy, run to their doctor asking for prescription drugs they saw on television and/or start buying over-the-counter remedies. Certainly the advertising must have an effect similar to reading disease symptoms – too much of that and you believe you've contracted something terrible.
It's just a theory, but I wonder – and I wonder if there were less health-related advertising, how many fewer doctor visits, prescriptions and OTC drug purchases there would be.
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