Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare hoopla

A lot of news has been made of late about angry mobs shouting over each other at "town hall" style meetings between Senators and their constituents. Although I can understand someone's distrust of government and be wary of entitlement programs, I don't particularly understand the logic of what is being said. Concerns I hear repeatedly run something like this.
1) I don't want my health insurance to change.
2) A national insurance plan by the gov't. will kill private insurance
3) I don't want the government in the healthcare business

Let's talk about each of these concerns individually.
1) For people who are happy with their health insurance through their employer, they need not worry. An estimated 160million people receive medical coverage this way. This is commonly referred to as dual-payer system; meaning an employer and an employee jointly contribute to the medical benefits. An example of a single-payer system is what exists in Canada or the U.K. Nobody in the Obama administration has proposed a single payer system. Ironically, candidate John McCain espoused a single-payer model based on tax cuts for businesses. He felt that if businesses no longer had to provide medical benefits it would make them more competitive and this responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the individual / family.

2) There is a concern that if the federal government offers a public insurance plan that private insurers will go away. However, this fear is untrue. The State of MA has created something called "The Connector" which allows people who do not qualify for or receive insurance from their employer to select insurance plans that are government regulated. Private insurers plus government plans are included and since MA passed universal coverage in 2006 - the private insurers in the state have benefitted significantly. With near universal coverage they've seen their enrollment numbers rise - something I believe that is unique and not been seen in 49 other states where each year more people lose coverage or drop it because it is no longer affordable.

3) Government is already in the healthcare business and if one is to believe polling done by the elderly - they are very positive about their coverage and choice in the Federal Medicare program. This does not mean there is not waste in this program or that it is perfect, but if you know someone over the age of 65 who is no longer working - they receive Medicare. Ask them if Medicare should go away or if they are unhappy with their coverage.

Last year, not long after I joined my firm, we published a report that claimed more than $1.2 trillion of the $2.2 trillion the US spends on healthcare each year is wasteful. For sure much can be done in the area of payment reform and streamlining procedures. This is in part what the Obama administration is trying to accomplish by reforming the system. However, the bulk of that waste is directly attibuted back to the consumer. Meaning that you and I are the biggest reason healthcare costs continue to spiral. Attributing poor decisions about our health and our slow nature to respond to health concerns as the biggest driver of cost.

There is plenty to be mad about with regards to health reform and everyone has the right to be heard. But there is a big difference between shouting nonesense and having an honest gripe. If people don't want reform - that is a valid perspective, but keep in mind that healthcare costs in 2010 are estimated to rise by more than 9% - nearly 3 times the rate of inflation. Also keep in mind that by nearly every measure in quality and cost the US comes in either last or near the bottom as compared to every other industrial nation. To do nothing is to be satisfied with failure in my opinion.

1 comment:

Riverwolf, said...

This entire issue is driving me crazy! Very good responses here. My mother is on Medicare and has never had any problems. And I bet, if you went to all those people yelling for the government to stay out of healthcare and said to them, "OK, then don't accept your Medicare checks when you become eligible"--not one would agree to it. They'd start yelling how they're entitled to it! Come on, you can't have it both ways.

Besides, nothing is perfect. We already have plans now where a company decided what it will and will not cover. Because of my own plan, I have put off procedures recommended by my doctor because I simply cannot afford the out-of-pocket expense. That same plan also tells me which doctors I can and cannot see and how much I have to pay. So exactly what's the problem?

These critics are all on some good crack!