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Fixing health care in the US? Part I November 16, 2007

Posted by The Armchair Economist in Business, Commentary, Economics, Fix Health Care, Health, Medicine.
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Huge task… I know. I realize that I always come up with ideas to ponder but I’m discouraged in pencilling it down because it means taking hours away from my day to flush out my ideas that will likely be a unintelligible tome. Rather, I will post short segments/thoughts (open to discussion if you feel like commenting) of problems I’ve identified.. as well as possible solutions. Search under the category ‘fix health care’ for future installments.

Problem: The oft cited ‘America spends XX% of their GDP and health care still sucks’
The reason for our high costs are obviously multifaceted…

  • We have the newest technologies, newest procedures, newest pharmaceuticals.. All of this costs money. If I was deathly ill, I definitely want to be in the US with all of its resources at its disposal to cure my illness, over any other country.
  • We subsidize the rest of the world’s health care. The cost of most new technologies are not regulated in the US (ie: manufacturers can charge whatever they want) while prices are heavily regulated by all other nations (ie: thats why drug prices are so much cheaper in socialized systems than in the US), otherwise these nationalized systems would be bankrupt. (likewise, allowing competitive pricing in other countries would likely drive down the prices in the US)
  • Preventative health care is not a priority in the US: Since there are so many insurance companies out there (all focusing on the bottom line) there is no guarantee that the expenditures they lay out today (for a disease you do not have and may not get), would benefit them in the future, since you can always go to another insurance company thus negating their investment in your health. Their solution? Reduce emphasis on ‘low return’ preventative health care, and try to ‘manage risks’ (ie: minimize sick patients on their rosters.. even to the point of canceling policies in the middle of expensive chemotherapy as elucidated by Health Net recently)

Yet for all of our costs, our health doesn’t seem to be any better..

  • Our health isn’t a failure of our health care system, it is a failure of priority and accountability. With a cultural priority on wealth accumulation, work, and leisure time becomes a valuable commodity. Increase in middle class and disposable income means more money to spend on dining out and convenience foods. A cultural focus on higher education is migrating our workforce to a more sedentary service oriented economy. Health care is a means for us to enjoy those steak dinners and burgers yet maintain a ripe old age. (ie: 1 surgery to make up for 30 years of culinary indiscretion, hit me)
  • Our infant mortality rate sucks (#17 according to Michael Moore’s Sicko) Two key reasons that come to mind: the definition of ‘infant’ is different. In the US, infant mortality counts an infant exhibiting any signs of life, regardless of gestational age or size. (ie: high risk, premature babies <28 weeks or less than 1000gr would not be counted as infants in some countries). Additionally, the technology allows us to birth high risk babies that would likely not be carried to term elsewhere. Basically this is a numbers game.. the question is, if you were going to have a high risk baby, what country would you want to be in?
  • Lies, damn lies, and statistics: Statistics can be massaged to support any statement. Lets look at objective statistics.. for exampling by match risk factors (ie: obesity) with outcomes by country.. (I’m not suggesting that US would come out on top)

Solution:

  • Use our political and economic leverage to allow less restricted pricing by socialized nations This will obviously face substantial resistance. Arguably, we are suggesting to raise the health care costs of other nations so that we won’t have to pay as much (although rightfully, we have been subsidizing R&D for the rest of the world)… probably not the most popular proposal.
  • Increase the accountability of health to the individual: With the exception of genetics, your health is your decision. Your decisions can influence your health in 50 years. Each cigarette you smoke increases your risk for emphysema, lung cancer, coronary artery disease, etc.. why should your decision affect my financial wellbeing (in terms of higher insurance premiums.. to take care of your sick ass in 30 years). Each bag of fries, canister of pringles, slab of filet mignon, and can of soda will increase your chance of obesity, diabetes, hyperlipidemia. How can we influence peoples decisions and make them financially accountable for their decisions? Consumption tax… or Fat and Sugar tax if you will. Taxes collected can be used to subsidize healthcare costs as well as fresh fruits and vegetables (not necessarily to pay for farm subsidies though).
  • Prohibit health insurance companies from being for profit entities: There is an inherent conflict of interest in making money in the insurance industry. While the industry argues that it increases competition and reduces costs to the consumers, all it does is reduce corporate accountability. Ideally insurance works by pooling risk, in a profit motivated world insurance works by reducing costs. By becoming mutual companies where profits are distributed to the policy holders, there is a form of checks and balance.. money saved goes back to people who payed the premiums, and any policy changes that might reduce benefits affects only policy holders.
    • Shift the responsibility of verifying information accuracy on applications to the insurance companies: In response to the Health Net fiasco, insurance companies shall be prevented from changing coverage once they begin accepting premiums. Insurance companies argue that this will foster fraud (ie: people will underreport existing conditions).. I’m not sure why no one has thought of this before, but rather than sitting back and collecting premiums, insurance companies should be responsible for doing due diligence on the health of a prospective client BEFORE they begin accepting premiums rather than while they are undergoing expensive and lifesaving therapy. (I would classify this responsibility as ‘risk management’) This is not as much of a hardship on insurance companies as you would think, insurance companies can protect themselves by easily sharing patient information with each other to verify the accuracy of applications.


Thats all I have for now. I reserve the right to continuing updating this entry for additional points, accuracy, and hopefully citations. I welcome your thoughts to fixing the system.

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Comments»

1. Diana Lakis - November 17, 2007

What do you say to an individual who has taken extreme care of their health but then gets cancer? They have been accountable for their health.

I like the idea of making Health Insurance companies non profit. Wasn’t that how Blue Cross used to be.
It seems that Health Insurance is yet another venue for speculation as was the mortgage industry. Everything is too volatile and doesn’t hold its value. Not property, not stocks not health insurance. You have a point.

As for discovering the health merit of an individual, don’t unhealthy people who have been diligent but met unfortunate illness or accident merit coverage? Should they just die because there is no health insurance for them that is affordable?

2. The Armchair Economist - November 17, 2007

Good question. Perhaps inherited or diseases not attributable to individual decisions can be covered by some kind of national ‘birthright’ type insurance.

Insurance companies indeed started off as mutual companies, but many ‘demutualized’ and become public companies to better facilitate capital acquisition (for what purpose I am not entirely clear). I wouldn’t put health insurance as a form of speculation. I think as a theory, risk pooling through insurance works.. however, it fails for several reasons, some of which are elucidated in this article (http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=11691)

3. Dr. Tom Bibey - November 18, 2007

I am a country doc. You have considerable insight into the problems we face.
I am near retirement, and now play music and write a fiction weblog. I do not have many answers, but I hope you young folks can come up with some solutions for the mess we created!

drtombibey.wordpress.com


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