“Health Insurance Is Broken”

From The Onion:

Almost every Sunday, I spend hours reading the local AJC and the NY Times — a great way to start the week.

On July 5th, the NY Times review section discussed the topic of ‘The Economy We Need.’ The article discussed rising problems with wealth inequity and associated problems including higher mortality rates.  The first article states that “if income had kept pace with overall economic growth since 1970, Americans in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution would be making an extra $12,000 per year, on average.”

The greater inequities are the direct result of policy changes and can be changed. The subsequent articles detail myriad issues from tax policy that bolster wealth inequality (eg. lower inheritance taxes), minimum wage which requires many to rely on government assistance, legacy admissions to elite colleges, corporation stock buybacks (which come at the expense of lower benefits/wages), policies that discourage unions, and corporations that have stopped profit sharing (except for the highest-paid executives).

The article with the most relevance for health care providers: NY Times: “Health Insurance Is Broken” by Jeneen Interlandi. Link to online version: Employer-Based Health Care, Meet Massive Unemployment

Key points:

  • “The nation spends an average of $3.5 trillion on health care –more than Japan, Germany, France, China, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and Australia combined — ant still loses more people to preventable and treatable medical conditions than any of those countries do…America has created the most expensive, least effective health care system in the modern world.”
  • The problem has deep roots.  One of the issues with the cost, at least historically, has been “price insensitivity.”  “If the insurer is paying, nobody looks at the bill.”…Hospitals ramped up equipment purchases, workforces, specialty clinics and “passed [the price hikes] from hospitals to insurers to customers.”‘
  • “Employer-based insurance is heavily subsidized by the federal government …[and] are not much different than the ones granted to low-income Americans through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.”
  • The country will have to stop making employers the sole source of health care for so many people.”  Alternatives could include single-payer system or ‘public option.’

My take: The U.S. health care system costs too much and has gaping problems with lack of coverage and inequities. These problems have worsened with the current pandemic.

Related article: NY Times:  The U.S. Is Lagging Behind Many Rich Countries. These Charts Show Why.

Related blog posts:

NY Times: America can afford a world-class health system. Why don’t we have one?

Yesterday’s NY Times had a terrific review section of the paper with the theme of “The America We Need.”  The section highlighted the interaction between the coronavirus and inequality, unemployment, collective action, and emerging threats (eg. climate change).

The article with the most relevance for medicine was titled: America can afford a world-class health system. Why don’t we have one?

Here’s an excerpt:

The notion of price control is anathema to health care companies. It threatens their basic business model, in which the government grants them approvals and patents, pays whatever they ask, and works hand in hand with them as they deliver the worst health outcomes at the highest costs in the rich world.

The American health care industry is not good at promoting health, but it excels at taking money from all of us for its benefit. It is an engine of inequality…

America is a rich country that can afford a world-class health care system. We should be spending a lot of money on care and on new drugs. But we need to spend to save lives and reduce sickness, not on expensive, income-generating procedures that do little to improve health. Or worst of all, on enriching pharma companies that feed the opioid epidemic.

The first step to reform is to change the way we think…It would be more accurate to think of employer-provided health insurance as a tax….

Employer-based health  insurance is a wrecking ball, destroying the labor market for less-educated workers and contributing to the rise in “deaths of despair.”…

To meet those rising costs, states have cut their financing for roads, bridges and state universities. Without those crucial investments, the path to success for many Americans is cut off. We face a looming trillion-dollar federal deficit caused almost entirely by the rising costs of Medicaid and Medicare, even without the recent coronavirus relief bill…

Americans have too few doctors, too few beds and too few ventilators — but lots of income for providers. While millions suffer, our health care system has turned into an inequality machine, taking from the poor and working class to generate wealth for the already wealthy…

The health care industry has armored itself, employing five lobbyists for each elected member of Congress. But public anger has been building — over drug prices, co-payments, surprise medical bills — and now, over the fragility of our health care system, which has been laid bare by the pandemic…

Employer-based health care is a particular nightmare in this pandemic. In recent weeks, millions have lost their paychecks and their insurance, and will have to face the virus without either.

We are believers in free-market capitalism, but health care is not something it can deliver in a socially tolerable way.

My take: Many health care workers and hospital employees are showing incredible courage and compassion in this pandemic.  This article reminds us of all the work needed to improve our health care system.

Related blog posts:


Curbside humor -my wife is leaving different jokes everyday for neighborhood walkers

From CNN:

Do deductibles work to improve smart spending on health care?

According to a recent NY Times article –the answer is no.

The problem:

  • With high deductible plans, people reduce both high-value and low-value care
  • Many people cannot afford very valuable care due to their deductibles

Link: The Big Problem With High Health Care Deductibles

Here’s an excerpt:

Some health economists say the solution to the problem may be smarter but more complicated forms of health insurance that provide patients with important care free, but charge them for treatments with fewer proven benefits. Mr. Chernew, for one, argues that ordinary deductibles are too “blunt” an instrument, but smarter insurance plans could harness economic incentives to reduce wasteful health spending without discouraging needed care. If such plans held down costs as well as deductibles, they could keep insurance affordable without as many risks. The theory behind such plans is compelling, but given how bad people are at shopping for health care, more empirical evidence is needed to know how well it works in practice.

US Infinity Pool