POLICY: Medpundit’s concerns–too much coverage

Medpundit has responded to my queries about her stance on MSAs, coverage and all that. Go read her piece here, then come back. Medpundit’s very concerned that many of the patients she’s seeing are coming in for expensive diagnostic tests that are supposed to prevent illness way down the road and often end up on very expensive drugs. And as Medpundit also points out, there is no cost-benefit rationale to many of these tests and immunizations.  These are all covered by insurance under managed care’s "preventative" ethos, yet in the end these people will get sick and need costly care for something else anyway.  New treatments do tend to keep people alive longer, but they are still going to die eventually and cost more money down the line. This is indeed the conundrum, as represented by the rather amusing "debate" a few years back started when Philip Morris "demonstrated" that smoking saved the Czech Republic money as it killed off people who would otherwise be collecting pensions and using health care benefits.

Medpundit’s solution is to make people pay for preventative (and I assume routine) care, and carry catastrophic insurance. Although I have some sympathy with this approach in avoiding what economists call moral hazard (i.e. unnecessary use of services because they are free) Canadian economists Bob Evans and Morris Barer have proved to my satisfaction that point of service user fees only really discourage the very poor from seeking care, and are as such discriminatory. But the real point is that although the testing of the healthy that Medpundit sees too much of may be increasing costs, the real money is spent on the care of those who are very sick. So if everyone bought a "catastrophic" only insurance policy, eventually the cost of those policies would increase to more or less the cost of a regular policy–because, whether it’s done via insurance or taxation, the 80 % of people who are healthy need to pay for the care of the 20% who are sick. Controlling the cost of care of the sick means doing what most Americans view as something very unpalatable–limiting care.  I personally believe that limiting excessive care of those who are going to die soon anyway is totally humane.  However any doctor who remembers the horrendous state persecution of Dr. Robert Weitzel in Utah is going to be highly suspicious of taking such an approach. Of course we are getting nowhere near having the kind of debate about this "rationing" that we need to have. So the status quo of more and more services being available to patients at greater and greater cost to all us will remain.

Finally Medpundit sums up both of our feelings about getting away from employment-based insurance coverage:

    Unfortunately, it’s also a politically unpalatable one. No one wants to give up something they’re already getting for free. (Or think they’re getting for free).

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