NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # LIGHTHOUSE Healthcare. Illuminated.

health economics

A THCB reader in Virginia writes:

“As a small business owner, I’ve been following the arguments about Obamacare with a mixture of amusement and total horror. Just when you thought Washington couldn’t screw things up any worse, they find new and creative ways to do exactly that.

My question concerns the phenomenon of the “death spiral” the terrifying sounding scenario that observers predict will occur if not enough people buy insurance. According to this theory, if not enough people buy health insurance, insurers will be forced to abandon unprofitable markets.  As a business owner myself, this argument resonates. But I still don’t get it. This seems like common sense.

It is certainly true that if nobody buys my goods and services, my business will go into a “death spiral.” I will no longer be able to make a living selling my widgets. I will be forced to invent a new widget. Or go get a new job. This is like my kid saying if he doesn’t to play more Call of Duty IV he will go into an “entertainment death spiral” and be unable to do his homework ever again or be a productive member of society.

Or McDonalds warning that if too many people take up vegetarianism, its business will go into a horrible “hamburger death spiral.” So what evidence do we have? I need documentation. Like, let’s say, a picture. Or a YouTube clip.

Seriously, when has this happened? Otherwise, the death spiral thing sounds like really good economic spin to me …”

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There’s been a great deal of discussion about health care payment reform. Prominent in this discussion is “Pay for Performance” (P4P). The idea is simple — rather than pay providers based on volume of care (fee-for-service) or number of patients (capitation), tie their payment to a measure(s) of performance. There has been substantial concern about the quality of care delivered to patients, so pay for performance appears to make a lot of sense. Don’t we want to reward providers for good performance? Shouldn’t this encourage them to provide high quality care?

Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it might appear. While the idea of pay for performance is very appealing and intuitive, there are some major pitfalls in implementation.

Continue reading “The Promises and Pitfalls of Pay for Performance”

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A recent article in Time magazine by Steven Brill, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” is a brilliantly written expose of the excesses and outrages of health care pricing. In reaction to the story, some have suggested the price controls are the appropriate (or the only) way to rectify the situation. A recent story in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, “Steven Brill’s 26,000-word health-care story, in one sentence,” suggests that US health care costs and cost growth are so high because we do not use rate setting, i.e., price controls.

In fact, I think it’s not easy to establish whether that is indeed the case. We don’t get to use randomized controlled trials for health policies or systems, so it’s difficult to figure out how effective a policy like rate setting is. Let me start with some simple examinations of patterns in data to see if something jumps out that strongly supports (or contradicts) the assertion that price controls reduce health care costs.

Continue reading “Are Price Controls the Answer?”

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As the New Year begins, I look forward to reading and commenting on the latest developments in health economics. I thought I would start by making a few predictions:

1) With the economy on a slow but steady road to recovery, Republicans will resurrect health reform as a key issue in the fall election. They run a controversial ad showing a patient named Debbie getting diagnosed by her iPhone’s Siri. In response, Democrats show Debbie filing for bankruptcy because her insurance refused to pay for Siri’s consultation fee.

2) The Supreme Court will uphold the purchase mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Lobbyists for every major industry flood Congress with requests for more purchase mandates.

3) Healthcare continues to be a bright spot in a sluggish labor market. As a way to simultaneously address persistent unemployment and the growing needs of the elderly, Nancy Pelosi proposes a new law mandating that all baby boomers purchase a caregiver for their parents.

4) CMS will release new revised rules for ACOs. The new rules discourage ACOs from only covering patients in good health by reducing reimbursements for patients who are able to lift the new 1200 page ACO rulebook.

Continue reading “New Year’s Predictions: More Mandates (Maybe), House Rules at CMS”

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