Does Bernanke understand health care?

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke’s freshman-level term paper on health care economics shows how little he knows about it.

Here’s the evidence:

He talks about the health care system in America as if there is one. There are thousands of health care systems in this country. They include the military and Veterans Administration health care systems, the investor-owned and not-for-profit health care systems and systems owned and run by states, counties and municipalities. Typical systems include hospitals, specialty hospitals, long-term care facilities and services and primary care, diagnostic, emergency care and surgical clinics. Every state and municipality that has a hospital, doctor’s office, nursing home or other health care provider is a health care and health insurance market. In addition, we have dozens of medical devices, medical supplies and pharmaceutical markets. While they are interdependent, they are not in a “system.”

He cites a Institute of Medicine report on medical errors, which has
been discredited in the Journal of the American Medical Association and other
peer-reviewed journals. I’ve also written about its flaws in Health
Care Strategic Management. Here is one of the 32 posts I’ve written
about medical errors, and it puts the number of deaths due to errors at
32,000, not the more than 100,000 projected and estimated by the IOM in
its 1999 report.

Bernanke talks about the 47 million uninsured when there are, at
most 10 million American citizens who cannot afford health insurance
and are “uninsured.” I’ve explained the math here. I’ve
written about the uninsured more than 177 times over the last five

The Fed’s chairman repeats a couple of important points.

First, no single reform will fix the health care markets.

Second. We have excellent health care services and medical products
producers in the U.S., and policy makers must be careful not to damage
what we have, which is what they’re bound to do.

10 replies »

  1. Bernanke aside, your statement about the number of uninsured Americans is seriously irresponsible. In your linked “math” you imply that a government report indicates 36 million uninsured. But following the sources reveals that a private company – not the government – estimated that 9 million of the 45 million might have coverage AND that an urban institute analysis suggests the overcounting is closer to 4 million. All of these numbers work off the CPS census number of 47 million uninsured all year, while the number uninsured at an point during the year is likely much higher.
    You then go on to automatically exclude anyone making more than $50,000, calling them ‘free-riders’ without any analysis of the expense of insurance in the non-group market, and without any discussion of the fact that some people with preexisting conditions can’t get coverage no matter how high their income. You’re not a free rider if you can’t afford insurance or can’t get coverage.
    Then you go on to make a totally unsupported statement about “15 million uninsured illegal immigrants.” This is just thinly veiled bigotry. The CPS finds that there are only 10 million non-citizens in the 47 million uninsured, only a fraction of whom are “illegal.” (I won’t go into the moral argument that we should care about American residents whether or not they’re documented).
    I expect more of this blog, which until this post had impeccably high standards.
    Real discussion of various estimates are here:

  2. Actually, I thought the Chairman’s comments about health care this week were pretty reasonable in a vague kind of way.
    Spending will increase until it stops increasing, and there is a lot of waste in the current system.
    Can’t disagree with that.
    I think he’s got his hands busy with plenty of other problems and is probably glad this one isn’t front and center for him.

  3. “The problem here is not only the current level of health-care spending (U.S. spending exceeds that of most other industrial countries)…”
    By simply stating that the US spends more on healhtcare than ‘most’ other industrial countries Bernanke grossly understates the inefficient nature of our “system”. A more accurate description of this problem would be that US spending on healthcare exceeds that of EVERY other industrial country. According the WHOs statistical information system (WHOSIS, http://www.who.int/whosis/en/index.html0), in the year 2005 the US spent more as a % share of GDP (15.2%) than any other country in the world except for the Marshall Islands (15.4%). The closest similarly developed nation in healthcare spending is Switzerland at 11.4% of GDP, only seven similarly developed nations spend more than 10% of GDP.

  4. When anyone talks about ‘healthcare system’, they talk about healthcare in its entirety; not just one set of hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, equipment makers, pharmacies, and the whole host of ‘middlemen’ like insurance companies, third party administrators, insurance agents/brokers, etc.
    Surprisingly, people like Donald doesn’t even understand what ‘healthcare system’ means. Dude, it is not the computer application system. No wonder our healthcare system is in crisis.

  5. “He talks about the health care system in America as if there is one.”
    Truth succinctly put. Making a point of correcting this misnomer would make for a great sound bite for any politician not under the control of the health care corporations, if there is such a thing.

  6. Ummm…so 32,000 annual deaths due to medical errors is OK? Whew! Problem solved!

  7. Donald, I don’t have any confidence in Bernanke either in healthcare policy or financial policy – he’s just a bail-out hack for Wall Street and the crack cocaine of debt it operates on. But as you poo-poo the problem “myths” of healthcare do you recognize (accept) we have an affordability “crisis” right now that is only getting worse, or do you see this as just another opportunity for Wall Street to lever-up another debt instrument it can re-package, securitize, and sell to the next group of pidgens?