Tag Archives: health insurance

FIXING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: PART 1 – WHAT WE KNOW, WHAT WE NEED

There are two things the newly ascendant House Republicans need to know about fixing the new health reform law. First, their mantra of “repeal and replace” (besides being moot) ignores the fact that, buried in the manure pile of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a real pony in the form of individual insurance exchanges that need to be dug out, hosed off, and nurtured by a combination of empowered consumers and enlightened, lightened regulatory oversight. Second, the GOP’s oft-voiced preference for incremental health reform—tort reform, interstate insurance purchases, and tax credits—won’t do anything to fix the fundamental problems in health insurance and medical care.

So I’d like to offer a guide to both parties on what we know and what they must do to fix not just the ACA, but the entire problem of unaffordable, mediocre quality medical care.

What We Know
There are four basic problems to fix.

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HOW HEALTH REFORM CAN WORK: PART 5

THE CHALLENGE
Despite deep flaws that will have to be corrected, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has three aspects that make me optimistic about medical entrepreneurs being able to surmount the law’s barriers and create a consumer-dominated, market-based system of medical care and health insurance that will ultimately deliver high-quality, affordable medical care to everyone:
1.    The creation of consumer value
2.    The rise of high-value local health plans
3.    The achievement of effective disease prevention

Recap
In Part 2, I discussed the creation of consumer value as an unplanned result of ACA’s forcing individuals—and not their insurers—to pay for their normally consumed medical services. In Part 3, I described how new local health plans built around these providers will be able to displace national PPO-based carriers by creating a virtual cycle of ever higher medical quality and constantly improving affordability. In Part 4, I addressed how these innovative health plans can dramatically move the needle on effective disease prevention. In this concluding installment, I’ll talk about the challenges facing the innovators who will be responsible for achieving these benefits.

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HOW HEALTH REFORM CAN WORK: PART 3

THE RISE OF LOCAL, HIGH-VALUE HEALTH PLANS

Despite its deep flaws, the new health reform law, ACA, has three aspects that make me optimistic about medical entrepreneurs being able to surmount the law’s barriers and create a consumer-dominated, market-based system of medical care and health insurance that will ultimately deliver high-quality, affordable medical care to everyone:
1.    The creation of consumer value
2.    The rise of high-value local health plans
3.    The achievement of effective disease prevention

In Part 2, I discussed the creation of consumer-value as a result of ACA eventually forcing most people to pay for their own, normally consumed medical services in lieu of their insurers. In this third of five installments, I address the promise of local health plans sponsored by high-value medical providers.

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IS EMPLOYER HEALTH INSURANCE DYING?

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.

Posted in Health Costs, Health Insurance, The Health Care Crisis | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

SHOULD HEALTH INSURANCE COVER PRIMARY AND PREVENTIVE CARE?

I buy collision and comprehensive insurance on my car, but after talking to my State Farm agent, it might as well be called collision and incomprehensible. With seven layers of coverage, most of it is as clear to me as the details of health insurance are to many others. But it has two aspects I do understand. First, it doesn’t cover gasoline, oil changes, or worn-out tires. Those are predictable, normally affordable consumer purchases. Even if I could buy such coverage, I wouldn’t. It’s not worth the added insurer overhead and profit—not to mention the cost inflation on gas and tires once sellers discover their customers no longer care about price. I’m better off shopping around for reliable service, low price, and credit card convenience.

The other part I understand is the deductible. If my car gets accident damage, I pay the first $2,000 to fix it. Insurance pays the rest. I could get a $100-deductible option, but that costs an extra $183 per year. I’d rather save the money and drive more carefully—even if the two gents who’ve run into me during the past 40 years didn’t. I’m still way ahead.

Posted in Health Costs, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals, Medical Quality, Prevention | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

WE DON’T NEED AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO BUY HEALTH INSURANCE: PART 2 – WHAT THE SENATE AND HOUSE BILLS MISS

People will game any economic system for their own benefit—whether medical care or anything else. It is this characteristic human behavior that makes markets thrive while assuring that no alternative, centrally-controlled mechanism will ever match markets’ ability to optimize the creation and distribution of economic goods. The necessary rules and top-down decisions that govern centralized systems can never be sufficiently detailed or flexible to match markets’ indescribably complex and dynamic interactions among millions of consumers, producers, and intermediaries—each gaming the system for his own advantage. No one really understands why this emergent property of human behavior works, but it does.

Thus, we should always seek minimally regulated market solutions for creating and distributing economic goods, even—or especially—in the presence of market failure. Accordingly, enacting health reform to correct the health insurance market failure requires setting up a new regulatory and safety-net framework that reforms the system to allow everyone to purchase (or not) affordable individual insurance while preventing people from killing the market with free-riding adverse selection.

Posted in Government vs Markets, Health Costs, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

WE DON’T NEED AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO BUY HEALTH INSURANCE: PART 1

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).

Posted in Government vs Markets, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR A WORKABLE HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE

The raging health reform debate on the public option has sucked all the air out of the room on the central question that we should be addressing: How can we fix the insurance market failure that prevents everyone from buying affordable health insurance that covers all medically necessary, otherwise unaffordable care?

The current House and Senate health reform bills try to accomplish something like this by creating an insurance exchange that allows the uninsured to buy coverage (and by expanding Medicaid). But they do nothing to correct the overwhelmingly dominant employer- and government-based programs that constitute the real looming train wreck.

In theory, an exchange or similar mechanism that allows universal insurance access is not just a good idea, but an essential one. But it must be open to everyone, regardless of employment status or eligibility for government coverage. Properly structured, it can be the critical component for achieving an effective, sustainable health insurance and medical care delivery system.  Neither of the shortsighted, overreaching congressional bills will yield this result.

Posted in Government vs Markets, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

BREAST CANCER SCREENING, HEALTH INSURANCE, AND HEALTH CARE REFORM

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.”

Posted in Health Costs, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Government vs Markets, Health Costs, Health Insurance, Health Reform Goals, Medical Quality | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments