A couple of my recent blog posts have advocated for single-payer financing for health care in the United States as the most effective path to universal coverage and lower cost. This one is more personal, but also ends with the same conclusion.
My daughter Emily is an actor and singer. Like many artists, she gets by with a part-time job (without benefits) and professional gigs. And, until her recent 26th birthday, she had health insurance coverage as my dependent. She now faces the challenge of finding affordable coverage that will not disrupt her established patterns of medical care.
In many ways, she is fortunate. Until the ACA, she would have been booted off my insurance coverage after she graduated college, and would probably have found it impossible to get private insurance because of pre-existing medical conditions. And even now, I can extend her coverage through COBRA for up to 3 years (and can afford to do so) or she can buy insurance (with some help) on the NY State Health Insurance Exchange. So this is not a crisis for us, but it points out another fundamental flaw of how health insurance generally works in the United States – it is, uniquely among other developed countries, tied to employment.
Continue reading Happy Birthday Emily
While Washington now seems consumed with the mess swirling around the White House that was triggered by the abrupt firing of the FBI director, I want to get back to the mess swirling around the latest effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
Although the President stated that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” his apparent surprise is surely based on his own profound, willful ignorance. Anyone who has paid even the most cursory attention to American health care delivery and financing knows that our “system” is uniquely complicated (actually, it is complex). The complexity has been driven by many forces including, among others, the historical accident of employer-based health insurance, a mythic belief in “the market” to improve everything it touches, a corresponding skepticism that government can do anything effectively, and a lack of national consensus about what we, as citizens, owe each other to “promote the general welfare.”
The net result has been well documented. Health care in America is characterized by huge disparities in access to care, major failures of quality and safety, and unsustainable costs. It is, of course, also characterized by amazing life-saving and life-sustaining technology and millions of dedicated, compassionate people who struggle daily to overcome the dysfunction to deliver great care. So how to fix the bad without destroying the good?
Continue reading Back to Health Care
Steven Brill made a name for himself with an article in Time magazine back in 2013 entitled “Bitter Pill,” in which he harshly criticized how health care providers (especially hospitals) inflate the costs of their services. The piece created a lot of buzz, and some backlash from hospital groups and others. Now it seems that Mr. Brill has had a bit of a “sick-bed conversion.”
He has a new piece in the January 19th issue of Time called “What I learned from my $190,000 open-heart surgery: the surprising solution for fixing our health care system.” Since Time won’t let you read the article without subscribing or paying, I will save you the trouble. It seems that what he learned is that health care providers – the same ones he vilified in 2013 – were pretty great when they were taking care of his heart in 2015. In fact, he now believes that the way to “fix” healthcare is to “let the foxes run the henhouse” by allowing large integrated health systems become insurance companies and compete on price and “brand” and regulate their profits to assure that they are acting in the public interest. Yeah, well, no kidding.
Continue reading So What Else is New?
I have come to believe that fee for service (FFS), at least in its current incarnation, is an unsustainable model of financing health care. Pick up any newspaper or journal and you are likely to see that I am not alone. The reasons are as numerous as the faults of the present health care landscape – high costs, poor quality of care, unhappy patients, and unhappy providers. Continue reading Providers in the Insurance Game
I have been thinking more about the price of health care services. I have already shared some thoughts about this, but this time I have a more personal story to tell.
I recently had an echocardiogram. I would score the indication as “uncertain” (not clearly appropriate or inappropriate) according to professional guidelines. As a cardiologist myself, however, I would have ordered one in similar circumstances without hesitation. So I did not think the test itself was a problem — until I got the bill. Continue reading More on Prices
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2013;368:1713-22) has been getting a lot of press lately, and not because it reported on a new blockbuster drug. Rather, it reported the results of an unusual – and unintended – experiment about the utility of Medicaid.
A little background: one of the cornerstones of the affordable care act (aka “Obamacare”) is the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to include more low-income individuals. Since Medicaid is a state-run program partially financed with federal funds (as opposed to the “fully federal” Medicare program), eligibility has traditionally varied widely by state with much more generous eligibility and coverage in states like New York (read “blue states”) than say, Alabama. Continue reading The Oregon Medicaid Experiment: A Success or Failure?