A Hidden Cost of Health Care: Patient Time
Any student of Econ 101 knows that economists measure costs by opportunity costs, meaning everything that is given up to get something else. Time spent interacting with the medical system could be used for other activities, like work and leisure. Moreover, spending time getting medical care is not fun. This time should be counted as part of the cost of health care.
Using the American Time Use Survey, I calculate that Americans age 15 and older collectively spent 847 million hours waiting for medical services to be provided in 2007. If we value all people’s time at the average hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory workers ($17.43 in 2007), Americans spent the equivalent of $240 billion on health care in 2007. Put another way, omitting patients’ time caused national health care expenditures to be undercounted by 11% in 2007.
Alan Krueger, Princeton economics professor, in The NY Times