​​​​If the matter of America’s energy dependence is not answered in the
next few decades, costs could grow faster than expenses related to
health care.

According to a survey
released Thursday, premiums for job-based health insurance jumped 11.2
percent on average this year across the nation.

2004 increase was less than last year’s 13.9 percent jump, but still
the fourth straight year of annual double-digit rate hikes, according
to the study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health
Research and Education Trust.

It is
possible that America might have been able to avert this national
crisis if better government and business ethics related to the tobacco
industry had prevailed in the past century.

Here are some scary facts from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

Nearly 8.6 million people in the United States suffer from
smoking-caused conditions, including 400,000 deaths each year from
cigarette smoking.

• The total annual public and private health expenses caused by smoking add up to more than $75 billion a year.

• Non-health care costs from tobacco, including residential and
commercial property loss from smoking-related fire accidents, amount to
more than $82 billion.

the fact that the tobacco industry began deceiving the American public
about the health-related impact of cigarettes and other tobacco
products in the early 1950s, the toll on the nation in terms of
premature deaths, health care costs, productivity and actual dollars is

Even with the perpetual
$246 billion multistate settlement of 1998, including $50 million to
$60 million a year to Arkansas, the punishment to the tobacco industry
is no more than a slap on the wrist.

Americans should not expect a rebate anytime soon from Big Oil for the
unseemly and overflowing profits the industry is banking today.

Americans have already forgotten that the price paid for a barrel of
West Texas light crude — America’s favorite energy staple — was less
than 10 bucks a decade ago. Today, its crude trades between $40 and $50
a barrel.

Still, many economists,
including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, have played
down the impact that high energy prices have on our lives.

energy intensity of the United States economy has been reduced by
almost half since the early 1970s,” Greenspan said in speech in April
before the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic &
International Studies.

But, as weird as
this might sound, Greenspan can be wrong. The Fed chairman admitted in
testimony before the House Budget Committee on Wednesday that the
economy has “regained some traction” after a late spring slowdown that
was triggered by a sharp spike in oil prices.

despite what President Bush says about solving our energy problems by
drilling in backwoods Alaska, along with rival Sen. John Kerry touting
a plan to fuel the world’s largest economy on wind, ethanol and chicken
waste, everybody knows that the world is addicted to cheap fossil fuels.

The costs are starting to add up.

companies are finding it more expensive to find new reserves and
growing more dependent on drilling in risky environments, such as the
icy North Sea and miles below the murky depths of the Indian Ocean.

although talk about the world running out of oil have not reached the
hysteria of 1970s, when the Carter administration predicted oil would
reach $250 a barrel at the turn of the century, many oil analysts are
now openly debating if world oil supplies are near depletion.

thing they all agree on is this simple principle of supply and demand:
If fossil fuel consumption continues to grow much faster than reserves
are filled, oil will become more expensive and less available.

ugly truth about this whole scenario is that if something is not done
soon, everyday things that we take for granted like heating our homes
and filling our gas tanks for less than $20 to $30 will become luxuries.

Kind of like how health care is unattainable for nearly 45 million working Americans.

Wesley Brown is business editor for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. e-mail: [email protected]