OP-ED

Health Care, Not Coverage

For the next three months, the Supreme Court will mull the constitutionality of the new health care law. At stake is the government’s requirement that its citizens buy private health insurance. But whatever the outcome, it’s a foregone conclusion that some fundamental change must be instituted in the financing of health care delivery.

Today, enormous sums of taxpayer money are spent on the administration of health care programs such as Medicaid. Those administrative costs could be sharply reduced and the savings put to what is really needed — providing health care. With the information technology available today, public agencies should consider eliminating their function as a government-run insurance operation and focusing their resources on paying providers to deliver care.

Consider Medicaid, the shared federal and state program for the poor. When Medicaid was created, it was designed to replicate the private insurance function. But the basic purpose of insurance is to protect the policy holder’s assets against a catastrophic event causing risk of personal bankruptcy. Because the very nature of qualifying for Medicaid requires recipients to first spend down their assets and then earn an annual income below a certain percentage of the federal poverty level, what assets is the policy protecting? The person doesn’t need health insurance. He needs health care.

Unnecessary bureaucracy

When the government created Medicaid as a look-alike insurance product, it developed an oversight operation that has not kept up with what technology can do to make a system run more efficiently. And unlike private insurance, it built a system requiring monthly updates of each of its 50 million recipients’ eligibility, including filled-out and faxed-in monthly reports, income receipts, etc.

This requires an army of workers to process piles of eligibility paperwork. Over the years, as the program grew, so did the administrative staff.

To be sure, Medicaid has grown up as an adjunct to safety-net programs such as unemployment benefits and food stamps. As a result, aggressive screening procedures were designed to avoid fraud and to deter those who do not qualify from enrolling. But now that drastic cost-cutting measures have become necessary, we shouldn’t automatically cut services at the patient care level.

Instead, let’s also look at how technology can help achieve savings.

For example, California’s health care agency reported that it employs a full-time staff of 27,300 to monitor and implement its Medicaid, financial aid and food stamp programs. At an average annual cost of $110,000 per employee, California is budgeting more than $3 billion yearly for administration. That’s money not spent on medical care, food stamps, or the financial assistance — just on the cost to watch over these programs.

It’s therefore conceivable that the government would save significant money if it switched its focus from qualifying people for public insurance to simply qualifying them for care at the point of service.

Point-of-care system

Currently, we have state and federal administrators checking Medicaid applications online with the IRS. We already trust health providers with Americans’ most private information — their medical records. Why not take it a step further? A health care provider could easily share online capability with the Medicaid agency to immediately qualify or disqualify a person at its clinic or the emergency room.

When people without insurance seek treatment, a trained staff member could simply go to an online address, input basic patient data, and check for available options and whether their income (checked online as it is now with the IRS) qualifies them for government services. This point-of-care enrollment would provide automated checkpoints for eligibility and implement a transparent system with fraud controls.

Today, technology can place at our fingertips a world of information and data, all of which allow us to make major decisions with a relatively reliable level of comfort. When it comes to health care, we should look seriously at how technology can help us provide care and cut costs in our efforts to protect this precious delivery system.

Carly Fiorina is director of the advisory board for the Foundation for Health Coverage Education, a non-profit aimed at educating uninsured people about their options to get insurance. She’s also a former chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard. This post first appeared in USA Today.

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Katherine DimacaleMGBobbyGJohn R. GrahamMarwa Recent comment authors
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Katherine Dimacale
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Katherine Dimacale

Great article. Thanks for the info, it’s easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an IRS 1099-R form, I found a blank form here http://bit.ly/1wGOo7G

John R. Graham
Guest

@Peter1: Current estimates of Medicare fraud are $90 billion (http://tinyurl.com/csy9oxg) and Medicare spends about one fifth of national health spending. So, a rough estimate of fraud under “Medicare for all” would be $90 billion X 5 = $450 billion, right?

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

No, not “right”.

My understanding of Medicare fraud is the rules that Medicare legislatively has to follow for providers, not patients e.g. pay providers within 30 days. Medicare for all does not mean the same rules for providers, it does mean healthcare for patients not having to worry about qualifying for care.

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

then its not Medicare, its some imaginary program politicians have been promising for 46 years that has never and will never happen. When they passed Medicare do you think it budgeted $90 billion for fraud?

Peter1
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Peter1

It’s how Medicare has been structured to pay providers. There’s no reason Medicare can’t adopt private insurance mechanisms to fight fraud – but they would need legislative powers that congress would have to give them. Right now they are legislated to pay in no more than 30 days. That does not give a lot of time for checks and balances. But guess what, the first to complain about better fraud prevention would be providers who would be subject to more stringent rules.

BobbyG
Guest

“A Conservative Law Professor on the Obvious Constitutionality of Obamacare”

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/102685/conservative-defense-obamacare-affordable-care-health

6-3 to Uphold.

Marwa
Guest
Marwa

nice article

Dr. Mike
Guest
Dr. Mike

Seems to me many of you are glossing over the main point of the article – Americans need health care not health insurance. There need not be any “plan” for them. This would not be “Single Payer” as there would be no “payer” in the current meaning of that term. The government buys real estate and hires workers. It is ALWAYS inefficient when the government pays private entities for providing services to someone else. The government never trusts those it pays (sometimes for good reason) and the administrative overhead that results is not simply those low percentages everyone likes to… Read more »

DeterminedMD
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DeterminedMD

Amen to this comment. You know what else is always glossed over if not flagrantly ignored: an industry that has an expense account for the country of what, couple to 3 trillion a year in costs, and so much money going around and then attracting the nefarious element that lives by the adage, “there is a sucker born every minute” and the focus on profit margins just increasing that salivating component of “I want some”, skimming off 0.01 percent that ends up being a couple 100 Million dollars, who’s going to miss that money? yeah, interesting no one wants to… Read more »

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

” It is ALWAYS inefficient when the government pays private entities for providing services to someone else.”

True but it is always more inefficient when the government tries to do it itself.

Problem with the last question is how much it should cost is no where close to what it would cost. We should be able to insure those over 65 for $5,000 a year. It actually cost the government $7700 to do it. Getting actual cost and government spending to meet never seems to get even close.

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

just found this, those poor illiterate people sure seem to know how to complete enough of the forms to get the checks. http://www.eitc.irs.gov/rptoolkit/faqs/fraud/ “IRS estimates that between 23 and 28 percent of EITC claims are paid in error.” I guess by this measure Medicare at 10% fraud is actually a huge success. “What do I do if I refuse to prepare an EITC claim as the customer wants and I know the individual goes to a preparer down the street that is not as scrupulous?” “Sometimes during the interview process, the preparer is aware the taxpayer is not giving the… Read more »

Barry Carol
Guest
Barry Carol

Maggie – I think you overstate the importance of formal education in the ability of the poor to cope with and function in our society. Relatives of mine who have worked with low income people for decades tell me that while they may lack even a high school education and sometimes can barely read, they are very “street smart.” For programs ranging from food stamps to housing vouchers to Social Security disability and Medicaid to the EITC, as a group, they are well aware of what’s available and how to qualify for and access benefits. Regarding tax returns, I think… Read more »

Nate Ogden
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Nate Ogden

The Ozarks are supposedly the poorest part of America, when I go visit family there you see new boats and trucks all over the place. There is tremendous underground economy. Just because you tell the government your poor doesn’t mean it is true. In NV all of the tip income has a huge distorting impact on the income. People under the TIPS program with the IRS supposedly make 30K per year but easily afford 300K houses. Its another example of the fallibility of ivory tower academic studies and government work, unless you actually know the area and spend time in… Read more »

MG
Guest
MG

Barrry,

Latest estimates I have seen is that the Black Market economy is about ~10% of GNP in the US annually with illegal drugs, sex trade/porn, and informal labor accounting for a majority of it. Amazing thing is that marijuana grown in the US is actually estimated to be worth 10-20% more than actual corn production.

Actually quite low too worldwide.

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/12/mf_neuwirth_qa/all/1

bob hertz
Guest

Maggie is correct that some portion of the uninsured live in the cash economy, and do not file taxes or receive a government check. Either they are illegals trying to stay under the radar, or living with relatives. So even in my tax-based repayment scheme for the uninsured, some people will still get free hospital care. In most states and cities, this is a pretty small number. In the Mexican border states and parts of the deep South,, it is a larger number. The real reason that some states are opposed to Medicaid (even if they only pay for 10%… Read more »

MD as HELL
Guest
MD as HELL

I accept cash.

Maggie Mahar
Guest

Barry–

All good points.

Barry Carol
Guest
Barry Carol

“A health care provider could easily share online capability with the Medicaid agency to immediately qualify or disqualify a person at its clinic or the emergency room.” This is not where the majority of Medicaid dollars are spent. Much of it is spent for long term care, home health care, general medical care, including hospital based care, for the 9-10 million elderly people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid (dual-eligibles) and childbirth. Medicaid pays for roundly 40% of the 4 million births in the U.S. each year including many children born to illegal immigrants who come here specifically to have… Read more »

Maggie Mahar
Guest

Bob– You write: The patient repays the system over time, through the income tax system. What if the patient is unemployed? A great many people who are in their late 50s and early 60s will be permanently unemployed. What if the patient is an African-American twenty-one year old with no job and no prospects of getting a job? Even those who receive unemployment benefits often don’t have enough money for food, etc since benefits are based on what they earned on their lost job. “”Tax Policy Center data show that only about 17 percent of households did not pay any… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“this is what you must bring if you want assistance”

Maggie, at some point people need to help themselves. Tax preparers can’t collect the necessary documents for them AND assume the applicant is truthful. The docs are necessary to prevent fraud.

Maggie Mahar
Guest

Peter 1 —

I agree that people who can help themselves should help themselves.

But some people can’t.

In the U.S., millions are functionallly illiterate (this includes English-speaking white Americans– Google the topic.

The numbers are both startling and depressing.

My point was only that many low-income Americans would find the list of what they must bring totally daunting.

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

“In the U.S., millions are functionallly illiterate” How many of those millions have anyone but themselves to blame for being that way? Education up through high school is 100% free and if your poor most of college is two. For 99% of the illiterate it is a result of their own personal decisions. Medicare, Medicaid, and all other assistance forms should be written at a 12th grade level. If your to stupid to complete them then you get no assistance until you learn. The left created these millions of illeteriate people sustained on the public tit. Failed welfare policies, failed… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest

“illeteriate”

Case in point.

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

BobbyG above;

“Why not just cut the “eligibility” crap entirely? One of my picks with PPACA is all that ad nauseum dense language”

I think you meant;

Ad nauseam; a Latin term used to describe an argument which has been continuing “to [the point of] nausea”.

Pretty pathetic when your only contribution is to run spell check and your to stupid to even do that right.

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

You should probably read up some more so I don’t have to take you to the woodshed again in front of all your friends.

http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/adnauseum.html

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

Ah, Nate, the right/conservative viewpoint isn’t winning accolades from this MD either. I’m a moderate, independent person. Extremes don’t serve society, they expect society to serve them.

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

So, by your statement above, Ms Mahar, from april 15 3:12, everyone is entitled to the same level of care regardless of what they bring into the office, correct? So, convicts should access the same system as high society bigwigs, right? Illegal immigrants should get the same services as a citizen born here and paying taxes responsibly for decades, hmm? People with overt terminal or congenital illnesses that historically up to this point in time have less than a 10% likelihood of realistic response to interventions should be in front of those with more treatable illnesses, am I interpreting this… Read more »

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

“On filing taxes– Yes, there are tax assistance centers. But a grreat many poor people don’t know where the are –or how to find them.”

Great many, how many is that exactly, a dozen, maybe two dozen? Yes we should make sure all laws are written so 2 dozen people aren’t inconvienced.

“In 2008, 24 million taxpayers used the EITC program to claim more than $48 billion.”

Great many more have no problem finding the forms when free money is involved.

bob hertz
Guest

Nate is totally correct on the payment mechanism for the uninsured: a. treat them now ( we do not want people with broken legs turned away); b. the government pays the hospital immediately — not waiting for a barbaric private collection agency process….. c. the patient repays the government over time through the income tax system (no refunds, no credits, maybe some extra withholding) However, this system does need two extra items that Nate has not discussed: #1 –. A very small increase in income taxes, if we are going to be grown ups. The federal gov’t will be sending… Read more »

Ajay
Guest

Clearly pointing fingers at the system and bureaucracy and I guess she’s right as well.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

Maybe Ms. Fiorina wants to do for Medicaid what she did to HP.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-20094769-92/hps-carly-fiorina-era-is-finally-over…good-riddance/

Maggie Mahar
Guest

Carly writes: ” A health care provider could easily share online capability with the Medicaid agency to immediately qualify or disqualify a person at its clinic or the emergency room.” As Bobby G. says: and if he or she (or her child) doesn’t qualify, then what? I doubt Carlly realizes how many people earning $15,00 a year don’t qualify for Medicaid. These folks won’t have cash in their pocket–or a credit card– to pay for their care at point of service. She also probably doesn’t realize that many very poor people haven’t filed taxes. Some don’t speak English. (Many older… Read more »

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

“They don’t know how to file taxes, and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for them.” Some rich people that spend all their time living in Ivory towers don’t know federal taxes are prepared for free in just about every state in the country. Which is understandable when your so buzy telling poor people how they should live you don’t really have time to actually spend with them to see how they actually live or what they actually need. They just know all this from their ivory towers. “I doubt Carlly realizes how many people earning $15,00 a… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“I doubt Maggie knows either or she would have told us.”

Maybe Nate you could find anyone earning $15k who does qualify for Medicaid. Here in NC even if you’re aged, blind, and/or disabled the monthy limits are $908 for single and $1226 for a couple. Max assets (other than car, home, furniture, etc.) cannot be above $3k for a couple.

Nate Ogden
Guest
Nate Ogden

“Low-income taxpayers do not have to pay for help with filing federal income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service provides assistance and grants to non-profit corporations to help low-income taxpayers calculate and file federal tax returns. If your income is below $49,000, you can receive free assistance and free e-filing if you have the information with you to complete the tax return and file. Taxpayers with income less than $58,000 a year may use free software online.” Number 4 responce of search for free tax return low income. Maggie must not know how to use the internet. Maggie are you arguing… Read more »