College Textbooks and Health Insurance

If there is one thing college students can agree on, is that textbooks are outrageously expensive (and increasing 6% a year, twice as much as inflation). On the other hand, students are remarkably divided over the issue of health care (itself increasing about 7% a year), with many seeing nothing wrong with the idea of the government helping out a “little”.

Heck, if even the Cuban government protects you from paying out of pocket when you’re sick, why can’t we have that wonderful system here? (Now cue the angry fist shaking at those evil Republicans!)

So what’s the connection? It’s all about customer control. If books have been getting cheaper over the years, with ebooks being available for as low as $9.99, why would just one 528 page Sociology textbook cost $120? The ebook version, (which you get to keep for a whole half-year!) costs $48. Why? When you get around to reading your economics textbook (cost: $177.33), you learn about price being determined by things called “Supply”, “Demand” and “Elasticity”. If an item is priced too high for a customer’s taste, they simply purchase a cheaper substitute.

So why doesn’t that work with college textbooks? Despite what you might think while handing over your credit card at the bookstore’s register, you’re not the customer! The real customer for textbooks is your professor. They choose the books their students will buy and many want books published in the last year or so (encouraging publishers to pump out new editions), with snazzy covers and pre-made powerpoints and tests (and you thought your professor made those!). Since they get their books free, price doesn’t factor in quite as much.

So how does this relate to costs of healthcare? As any intelligent student will be able to make the connection, once you don’t have to pay directly for the costs of a product, (like professors), it doesn’t really matter too much if the price is $100 or $1,000. Health insurance does that to us for health care costs, health insurance paid for by your employer does that even more. Now what if you support “free” healthcare, paid for by your loving and benevolent government? Why not go to the ER for a sprained ankle?

Patient: Doctor, I just sprained my ankle!
Doctor: Why don’t you put an ice pack on it?
Patient: I want an MRI, just to be sure!
Doctor: You realize it’s not necessary and costs $15,000?
Patient: I don’t care. I’m not paying for it.
Doctor: Hey, neither am I! Want a triple bypass with that?

Unless you’re going for a Bachelor’s in Short-Sighted Thinking, you’ll realize in two seconds that there’s no such thing as “free” healthcare. And unless you’re also shooting for a double major in “Receiving Welfare for the Rest of Your Life”, you’ll forever be that student in the bookstore, wondering why your paycheck is being cut in half to pay for some bum’s $250,000 week-long hospital visit for a drug overdose. They don’t think we’re that stupid do they?