This Sunday, the NY Times will be publishing an opinion piece Sunday from Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel on the relationship between costs and outcomes.  It’s posted online early.  It is not a particularly innovative piece for those that follow the health care cost trends closely.

That said, what I think is interesting is how Emanuel puts the scope of the costs in context.  Too often, we through words like billion or trillion around but fail to fully understand the magnitude of the size.  “Unfortunately, few people really understand how much we spend on health care, how much we need to spend to provide quality care, and the difference between the two” he writes.  His “pop culture” approach to simplifying the size, though, is good.

“Consider this: If we stacked single dollar bills on top of one another, $2.6 trillion would reach more than 170,000 miles — nearly three-quarters of the way to the moon. Or, compare our spending to that of other countries. France has the fifth largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of nearly $2.6 trillion. The United States spends on health care alone what the 65 million people in France spend on everything: education, defense, the environment, scientific research, vacations, food, housing, cars, clothes and health care. In other words, our health care spending is the fifth largest economy in the world.

Or compare it to the second largest economy in the world, China. China’s G.D.P. is $5.9 trillion (compared to America’s $14.6 trillion). So the United States, with a population a quarter of the size of China’s, spends just on health care slightly less than half of what China spends on everything.”

A useful perspective when you come across folks that are still trying to come to terms with the question “Why is health care so hard to fix?”