Tag Archives: health care reform
We know that more than half of all medical cost is wasted, adding no value to the patient. We also know that the total costs of medical provider billing, collection, and payment consume as much as 30% of every health care dollar—about ten times the transaction costs in every other industry. If medical care were as efficient as, say, our economy’s food sector, it would provide higher quality for a third of today’s $2.6 trillion cost and free up $1.7 trillion every year for higher wages, lower federal deficits, and a major boost in job-creating private-sector investment.
Moreover, 75% of all medical spending now goes to treat preventable chronic diseases. If we could figure out how to get people to stop eating, drinking, and smoking themselves to death, and cut out the wasteful spending, our total medical bill would plummet to only 10-20% of today’s level.
One of President Obama’s most frequent health reform mantras is, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” This is consistent with his belief that we “must build on the current employer-based system” that insures 158 million people who comprise the vast bulk of all privately insured Americans. There is just one problem with this approach: employer-provided group insurance is dying and cannot be saved. Despite its longstanding dominance, group insurance, whether self-funded or provided by outside insurers, suffers from major flaws that are increasingly exposing its fundamental unsuitability as an even partial solution for effective health care reform. This is true for all employers, no matter what size. Here are group insurance’s more pronounced shortcomings:
1. Lack of Portability: Group insurance ties the individual to his or her job, an anachronism in an era when people change their jobs as often as their cars. And if you lose your job through layoffs or illness, you soon lose your insurance as well. If you can’t find affordable individual coverage, then welcome to the ranks of the uninsured.
A key requirement of the House and Senate health reform bills is that all Americans without employer or government coverage must purchase health coverage through a new insurance exchange. The reason is to avoid the ravages of “adverse selection” by “free-riders” who wait until they get sick to buy insurance and thereby bankrupt the system. This free-rider problem is at the heart of the market failure I’ve written about that prevents universal access to necessary, affordable health insurance.
In effect, insurance mandates are a required license to breathe. The often heard argument-by-analogy is that it’s no big deal, because we already require drivers to buy auto liability insurance. But driving is a privilege subject to reasonable public safety regulation and comes with the right to abstain—as 100,000,000 non-driving Americans do. Everyone breathes. Also, mandatory auto insurance is to protect the victims of drivers’ mistakes, not the drivers themselves. Car insurance mandates aren’t just irrelevant but also ineffective—14.6% of drivers still don’t buy it (similar to the 15.3% who lack health insurance).
The new breast cancer screening guidelines released last week, along with the supporting study, are among the most disputatious medical recommendations in recent memory. Critics on the right charge government rationing, while those on the left suspect an insurance company conspiracy to cut essential coverage. Adding gasoline to the fire is the even more heated health reform debate that has led its combatants to hijack the mammography issue to bolster their own particular views, pro and con.
To get past the politics, I read the study. It is hardly a page turner, but it’s a credible scientific analysis of the available data on breast cancer screening. A key question it addresses is how effective mammography is for women under age 50—an issue that has ping-ponged back and forth across the medical policy community for four decades. In this latest volley, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), citing the study, recommends “…against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years.” But then it equivocates with, “The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.”
THE PROPER ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN HEALTH CARE REFORM – PART 3: HOW REGULATED CONSUMER MARKETS WILL SUCCEED
In Part 1, I describe the market failure that has caused all the major problems in our dysfunctional health care system. Part 2 recommends straightforward government regulatory reforms that will correct this failure. Now, Part 3 describes how these market reforms will allow all Americans—finally and sustainably—to get their necessary health insurance and high-quality medical care at less than half of today’s cost. This is not deregulation of health care, but enlightened re-regulation to correct a fundamental market failure that the government and economists have ignored for decades.
The key action is to place America’s consumers firmly in charge with the money and the authority to make their own purchase decisions from insurers and medical providers that will be forced to actively compete with better value—higher quality, better customer service, and lower cost. This also makes consumers responsible for living healthy lives or else paying higher premiums if they don’t.
I wrote in Part 1 that medical care is an economic good. More specifically, it is a consumer good delivered directly to patients, primarily in the form of services. Experience has taught us that the most effective, efficient, and fair way to create and distribute consumer goods and services is through open consumer markets that allow each customer to determine a product’s value before deciding whether to purchase it with her limited available funds. Such value assessments require consumers to consider the answers to two fundamental questions:
- Which sellers’ are offering me products and services that will provide the best quality for my needs?
- Of those best sellers, which offers the lowest price?
In (slightly) technical terms, value equals quality divided by price, meaning that the higher the quality and/or the lower the price, the higher the resulting value. The challenge in getting higher quality, lower priced health care, therefore, lies in creating a consumer market for it. Actually, it means creating two markets, one for health insurance and one for medical services. But if we do the insurance market right, the second will naturally follow.
As a proponent of market-based health care reform, I’m often accused of believing that free markets will cure what ails our broken health care system and that we just need to get government out of the way to make it all better. I believe no such thing. And I almost never use the term “free markets.” It too often connotes that markets can operate in the absence of government regulation. That’s not how it works.
I understand why so many people believe in “free” markets, because markets themselves are a natural phenomenon arising from fundamental human behavior. Certainly no government ever invented them. Markets just happened, because people want things they lack, and they have found they can get them in return for their own labor and produce. No one really understands why markets work, because they are such indescribably complex, nonlinear, adaptive systems. But somehow they do. They’re messy as hell, but they perform well enough to allow a paraphrase of Churchill’s famous comment on democracy: Market capitalism is the worst form of economic organization—except for all the others that have been tried.
There’s a common delusion making the rounds of Congress and The New York Times that says we must force employers to pay more of their employees’ health insurance costs in order to reduce the workers’ financial burdens. The problem is that employer insurance payments are simply one component of total employee compensation. Arbitrarily increasing this part will necessarily cut the funds available for wages and salaries. Mandating such behavior would constitute nothing less than an enforced reduction in worker pay for a government-favored use, i.e., to support a wasteful, inflationary, mediocre-quality medical system. Any way you cut it, the employer mandate burden would be borne squarely by America’s workers under the disingenuous guise of employer responsibility. Every reputable economist knows this. So do our cynical, dissembling members of Congress.
They would have us believe that the modern philosopher’s stone called legislation will magically make one plus one equal three. That’s the essence of the two Senate health reform bills and the House’s own 2000-page orgy of excess (HR-3962) that would exact penalties from employers that don’t provide enough health insurance.
Thursday’s (10/08/09) much heralded CBO report telling us that the Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill will cut the federal deficit by $81 billion over the next ten years is a diversion at best and accounting fiction at worst. Any way you slice it, this health reform bill is going to cost you more.
First of all, any second year accounting student could drive a homecoming float through the loopholes in the CBO’s numbers. Just one example: the analysis includes ten years of increased government taxes and fees, but only six years of health reform expenses. It also assumes that Medicare will cut Medicare doctor fees by a whopping 25% in 2011 and then make below-inflation-rate adjustments after that. The reality is that the Congress has scheduled cuts every year since 2003 but has cancelled them all at the last minute in the face of massive physician lobbying. But what if this time is different and these cuts actually do go through? If past is prologue, then doctors will simply intensify what many have already done in the face of Medicare’s increasingly punitive reimbursement rates:
President Obama went all-in on health reform tonight (September 9, 2009) with his win-one-for-the-late-senator pitch to the assembled houses of Congress. Beyond his always-inspiring rhetoric, his actual proposals offered virtually nothing we haven’t heard before. His essential message: when it comes to health reform, I’m asking the American public to accept hope over experience, faith over fact.
Have Faith that the government will provide a public insurance option that is more competitive, efficient, fair, and effective than anything you can get from a private insurer. Subtext: Ignore the man behind the curtain who has already given you the unmatched fairness and effectiveness of FEMA, Fannie, Freddie, Medicare ($74 Trillion in the hole), Social Security ($17.5 Trillion under water), the national debt ($11.7 Trillion and counting), the sex-offender registry, and the SEC’s crack enforcement of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.