Megan McArdle notes that at most (by apparent exaggeration) 18,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance, while the annual death toll due to MSRA infections tops out at 19,000 Americans.
She notes some of the reasons for the rise in MSRA infections and at the end asks,
But it’s worth asking yourself: in a world of scarce resources, where you could only have one, which would you choose? And by what principle?
It’s a very pointed question, and the gist of the answer (regardless of which you choose) is that it’s probably a lot cheaper to prevent MSRA infections than to provide health insurance for everyone. I agree with the implied logic, although its premised on a fistful of assumptions that probably don’t all pan out. It should be cheap to do cut down or nearly eradicate MSRA infections. It’s largely a matter of personal hygiene, hospital hygiene, and proper application of antibiotics. Of course, if it’s so cheap to prevent these infections, how come it’s not happening? I think awareness is a weak response, as health care professionals are the ones not washing their hands and improperly prescribing antibiotics.
At any rate it certainly should be cheaper to place bottles of Purell every ten feet along hospital corridors.
More interesting even than the health care issue is the nature of the question itself, that is, demanding that the reader choose between two not-necessarily incompatible choices and provide the reasoning. I think this method of questioning is excellent economic pedagogy as it motivates the reader or student to think about decision making with limited resources and to compare relative benefits and costs.