But on Saturday, excited administration officials called me to say that this time the medical-industrial complex (their term, not mine) is offering to be helpful.In theory competing private companies give you efficiency and that is generally true. But when it comes to insurance there is another way to maximize profits: deny benefits to those most in need of the insurance. In a universal pool, there is no place for the insurer to hide. But with competing private companies each will be trying to dump their "problem" cases onto other private insurers or the insurer-of-last-resort, the government. It should be clear from the financial meltdown that relying on the government to be the insurer of last resort is a recipe for very expensive bailouts.
Six major industry players — including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a descendant of the lobbying group that spawned Harry and Louise — have sent a letter to President Obama sketching out a plan to control health care costs. What’s more, the letter implicitly endorses much of what administration officials have been saying about health economics.
Are there reasons to be suspicious about this gift? You bet — and I’ll get to that in a bit. But first things first: on the face of it, this is tremendously good news.
The signatories of the letter say that they’re developing proposals to help the administration achieve its goal of shaving 1.5 percentage points off the growth rate of health care spending. That may not sound like much, but it’s actually huge: achieving that goal would save $2 trillion over the next decade.
Before we start celebrating, however, we have to ask the obvious question. Is this gift a Trojan horse? After all, several of the organizations that sent that letter have in the past been major villains when it comes to health care policy.
I’ve already mentioned AHIP. There’s also the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying group that helped push through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 — a bill that both prevented Medicare from bargaining over drug prices and locked in huge overpayments to private insurers. Indeed, one of the new letter’s signatories is former Representative Billy Tauzin, who shepherded that bill through Congress then immediately left public office to become PhRMA’s lavishly paid president.
The point is that there’s every reason to be cynical about these players’ motives. Remember that what the rest of us call health care costs, they call income.
What’s presumably going on here is that key interest groups have realized that health care reform is going to happen no matter what they do, and that aligning themselves with the Party of No will just deny them a seat at the table. (Republicans, after all, still denounce research into which medical procedures are effective and which are not as a dastardly plot to deprive Americans of their freedom to choose.)
I would strongly urge the Obama administration to hang tough in the bargaining ahead. In particular, AHIP will surely try to use the good will created by its stance on cost control to kill an important part of health reform: giving Americans the choice of buying into a public insurance plan as an alternative to private insurers. The administration should not give in on this point.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Medical Care in the US
One of the most popular Canadian government programs is the Canadian medicare system. It now appears that under Obama, the US is going to a "universal" plan, but as a patchwork of private plans and not a single-payer government plan. Here's a bit from Paul Krugman's latest op-ed in the NY Times: