Thursday, March 19, 2009

Inflation does not explain all medical cost increases

I have been reading back issues of the local newspaper that piled up during my March 2-13 trip by Amtrak to Boston.

A letter to the editor proposed revaluing the dollar (and all prices). The writer saw this as a cure for the increase in cost of a doctor visit from $36 in 1982 to $248 in 2008. She apparently believes that all of the increase in the cost of visiting a doctor was due to inflation.

(The doctor referred to must be a specialist, or maybe a dentist. My doctors don't charge this much for a regular visit!)

There are several problems with this analysis. First, if all prices (including wages) were changed, a doctor's fee would still be the same percentage of one's income. Second, inflation since 1982 does not account for an increase from $36 to $248. According to the
inflation calculator at the Federal Reserve Bank, $36 in 1982 is the equivalent of $80.28 in 2008, not $248. So most of the price increase is not explained by inflation.

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