POLICY: Wow!–sensible stories in the NY Times

Monday’s NY Times had a sensible story about practice variation, essentially writing a guide to the Dartmouth Atlas. What’s remarkable is that it’s the second story about the topic in less than a week. David Leonhardt wrote a sensible one a few days back that was featured in THCB.

This is from the paper that couldn’t stop licking its festering sores on the same topic last year, when it printed four articles in quick succession that said that all our health care spending was essentially demanded–and worth it–and that there was no reason that we shouldn’t spend 20% of GDP or even more on health care. After all it was what we wanted, and what did we have to spend the money on that was better?

(Leonhardt somehow has written about the Dartmouth Atlas stuff and still believes that we should spend 20% of GDP on health care according to an email he sent me! So they’re not out of the woods yet. But David Cutler seems to be having some sort of a conversion too…)

But what’s really amazing is that after years of writing mostly nutty stuff about health care that caused Brian Klepper to wear out his keyboard writing protests, in perhaps the most health care articles in one issue ever of the NY Times on Monday you could also read about:

  • Why patients couldn’t trust information from other patients and should blindly do what their doctor says (not too bright an article, as the doctor is often wrong as RAND knows)
  • Whether WebMD’s stock is a good buy (Probably)
  • mandatory health insurance–why an individual mandate is hard (a not bad job of explaining the basics of risk pools, but ignoring the easier way of doing it through the tax system–although I preferred my interview with John Kingsdale who features heavily in the NY Times piece)
  • that putting in an EMR is very expensive for doctors and doesn’t necessarily pay off (Duh! But probably important given the stress on IT in many health policy plans); and,
  • that a human life is worth something–a not-bad introductory article on cost benefit analysis in health care although in all its explanations on what a life-year or even a QALY is, it never mentioned the most useful number–how much a human might earn in a year. That number is of course how the rest of the economy values a human life, and sadly folks it’s much lower than what health economists like David Cutler likes to use.

But the big picture is that by my count that’s six in depth analysis articles in one issue of the NY Times about health care, four of which introduce relatively sophisticated concepts in a not-too dumb fashion. My friends, this is what we call progress!

And just perhaps this health care stuff might be important?

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2 replies »

  1. Matthew, if I had any pull at all at the NYT, their next story would be on community rating and guaranteed issue, but alas, you’re probably closer to being in their contact lists than I am. And perhaps I’m getting greedy.
    I’ll make a point though about something you said about the QALY issue. You noted that the important number is the amount one might earn in a year. I’ve actaully always been a little more impressed by the value of a worker to his company, as measured by the company’s revenue, divided by its number of employees (I think you have to use full-time equivalents to get this number right, but I’ll leave the fine-tuning to the bean-counters). According to this formula, my value to the company is about five times what they’re paying me. For powerhouses like UnitedHealth Group, each employee’s value averages something like $300,000 a year.
    It’s just another way of looking at one’s “value.” Then again, maybe I’m still being too greedy.