LIFE Magazine August 1980 – Healthcare Costs Were 9% of GDP and Rising

Yesterday, I shared some old auto industry images and clips from the August 1980 LIFE magazine. More striking to me was an ad from Aetna health insurance, pictured below, the full ad and then some detailed clips below (click any for larger view):

Surprise, surprise, in 1980, people thought healthcare costs were too high. The ad expresses shock that the U.S. was spending 9% of GDP on healthcare and we need to find ways to reduce that. Well, here we are in 2009 and healthcare is 15.2% of our GDP. Ah, so past solutions didn’t work… or did we save “Trillions” because we’d be at 18% of GDP without the previous fixes? Ah, things like that can never be proven…


So healthcare costs had doubled in five years, and radical changes were proposed (sound familiar?).

This last part sounds familiar — coordinating care, preventing duplication… all sounds fine in theory, I suppose. Can anyone shed some history on the HSAs and why they worked or didn’t work?

This last clip talks about over-investment in equipment and facilities… idle and open beds isn’t really the problem today, is it?

I’m certainly not the expert on big-picture issues like this… but sharing the old clips to hopefully get some input from those who know more about the history and issues on this level.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to be notified about posts via email. Learn more about Mark Graban’s speaking, writing, and consulting.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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1 Comment on "LIFE Magazine August 1980 – Healthcare Costs Were 9% of GDP and Rising"

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  1. John Hunter says:

    The long term, macro economic failure of health care in the USA is extremely important. Dr. Deming say the problem and listed excessive heath care costs one of his 7 deadly diseases of western management in the 1980’s and it just gets worse every year (I believe we are at 17.6% of GDP in 2009).

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