It’s time again for me to use my bad back as a case study in why American health care has such crazy incentives.
About a month ago at the HLTH conference in Vegas, over the course of a few hours I developed debilitating leg pain. To quote from my earlier twitter thread on my time in Vegas, “After 3 days of excruciating pain, my wife insisted I went to the ER. The public policy person in me was horrified but we had already spent our deductible, so the cost was actually lower than paying cash for an MRI”
What actually happened was that after 3 days of dreadful pain & inability to walk (including getting myself home from Vegas using multiple wheelchairs, and being that guy who crawls off the plane onto a wheelchair), I got in to see my chiropractor. He said, you need an MRI to figure out what’s wrong with you. The alternatives were
1) Get insurance to pre approve the MRI. His guess was that that would take a few days or more. I actually called One Medical‘s urgent care video line and the PA I spoke to told me that usually insurance would only approve an MRI after I had done 6 weeks of physical therapy.
2) Pay $500 cash for a free standing MRI that could probably get me in during the next few days
3) Go to the ER
Now the “incentives” part of this starts to really matter.
President Obama rarely shies away from an opportunity to tout successes in U.S. health care, but in last night’s State of the Union oddly omitted any mention of the new and optimistic report about U.S. health spending from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
The finding: from 2009 through 2012, health care spending in the U.S. grew at the slowest rate since the government started collecting this data in the 1960s.
The actuaries found that in 2012 spending “stabilized,” growing by 3.7 percent in 2012, and health care accounted for a slightly smaller percent of GDP than the prior year, 17.2 percent versus 17.3 percent in 2011.
Perhaps an actuarial report proclaiming stable growth doesn’t make for much of an applause line for a State of the Union speech. But for confessed policy wonks like me, it’s as good as a Hollywood blockbuster.
So get out your popcorn, here are five Hollywood moments in the report.
1. Ninja Combat
When the report came out in early January, the Obama administration quickly ascribed the good news to Obamacare. But, lo and behold, the actuaries wielded their slide rules like weapons.
They respectfully disagreed with their president, pointing out that few of the provisions in the health reform law were actually in place during the slow-growth years in question. The actuaries conclude that most of the cost stability results from the economic recovery process.
Given the silence in the State of the Union, they may have been given the last word on the subject.