Health Policy

Matthew’s health care tidbits: #What is insurance again?

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

For my health care tidbits this week, I was reminded on Twitter that many Americans really don’t understand health insurance. A spine surgeon no less in this thread (no jokes about arrogance please) was telling me that he was paying ~$8,000 a year ($4,000 in insurance and $4,000 in deductible) before he got to “use” his insurance–which, as his medical costs were low, he never did. Others were complaining that the cost of employee premiums were over $20K. They all said they should keep the money and (presumably) pay cash when they do use the system. It’s true that most people don’t use their insurance. That’s the whole point. When you buy house insurance, you don’t expect your house to burn down. You are paying into a pool for the people whose house does burn down.

In the US we are on average spending $12k per person on health care each year. But spending on most people is way under that and for a few it’s way, way over. If you take the rough rule that 50% of the spending is on 10% of the people then 35 million people account for $2 trillion in spending–that’s ballpark $60,000 each. They are the ones with cancer, heart disease, complex trauma, etc, etc. The rest of us are “paying” our $4,000, $8,000 whatever, into the pool to cover that $60,000.

There are only two ways to lower that cost for the healthy who aren’t “using” their insurance. One is to exclude unhealthy people from that insurance pool, which makes the costs for everyone else much less. We did that for years with medical underwriting and it was nuts because it screws over the unhealthy. Fixing the pre-existing condition exclusions was the only bit of Obamacare everyone agrees on–even Trump. But now we are ten plus years into this new reality, some people have forgotten how bad it was before.

The other way is to reduce the costs in the system and lower that $4 trillion overall. How to do that is a much longer question. But it isn’t much connected to the concept of insurance.

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  1. Hi, I agree with all of your statements. It is important to note that health care is a public policy and a right every citizen should have. It allows the public to be secure if anything unfortunate happens to them and provides a safety net for any serious health complications. It can definitely be a bit unfair based on costs as, as you mentioned, some people pay much more and much less independent upon if they even use their insurance. It is a public policy that definitely needs more attention and reconsideration to benefit the overall public instead of focusing on a few individuals and having different policies and payments for different people. Nobody should be reaping the benefits or misfortunes from a public policy that is meant to help the general population out.

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