Right now we have sausage-making going on in DC and lots of uninformed opinions and outright lies being strewn across the front pages and on cable from newly declared experts. I sat in an airport last night and heard 5 Wall Street pundits spewing rubbish about health reform on one cable show. It even included an aging upper-class British twit declaring that government health care was more expensive than private systems. Clearly he’d managed to miss comparing the 8% of GDP his (and my) original homeland spends on health care versus the 17% we spend here. Later on CNN had 4 random people including Christine Hefner—yes one of those Hefners—talking about it. I suspect that if you know something about health care and your name’s not Michael Cannon you’re just not allowed on cable TV.
But all the hot air aside, even those of us in the punditocracy who know something about the subject matter (i.e. anyone reading THCB) seem to be so deep in the weeds that we have lost the basics about what we should be looking for from a health care bill. So it’s time to make that very clear, and here in my not so humble opinion are the rules by which to judge reform.
Rule 1 A health care reform bill needs to guarantee that no
one should find themselves unable to get care simply because they
cannot afford it. Neither should anyone find themselves financially
compromised (or worse) because they have received care.
Rule 2A health care reform bill needs to limit the amount of
GDP that is going to health care to its current level, with an overall
aim of reducing the share of health care going to GDP.
The Congress has looked at taxing about everyone and everything to pay for half the cost of a health care bill.
They’ve considered sugary soft drinks, beer, “millionaires,” and “gold plated” health benefits to name a few. Every time they come up with one it gets shot down by the interests it would offend.First, as I have asked on this blog before, why do we need to use at least $500 billion in new taxes to pay for half the cost of a health care entitlement expansion bill? We will spend somewhere between $35 trillion and $40 trillion on health care in this country over the next ten years. Many experts contend there is as much as 30% waste in what we spend.Advocates of a health care bill say we need it to reduce the cost of health care in this country that will otherwise bankrupt us if we don’t fix it.
With as much as $10 trillion to $12 trillion in waste, and cost containment as the stated goal, why do we need to raise people’s taxes $500 billion to pay for an expansion of coverage?But since it is clear that the Congress and the White House have all but given up on real health care reform that would really “bend the curve” they are adamant they are going to raise taxes to pay for at least half the cost.
Paul Krugman’s article today excoriates the Blue Dogs and a former dog Billy Tauzin in particular. He also (as I did a week or so back) wonders where the Dogs were when the Bush tax cuts were bumping the deficit more than the proposed health reform bill will and redistributing wealth from future poorer taxpayers to the very rich in the process.
Funnily enough I’ve been at the Aspen Health Forum where the self-same Billy Tauzin used his not inconsiderable Cajun charm and a dollop of PhRMA’s money to buy me (and a bunch of others) a whisky and a s’more on Saturday night, and took part in a couple of panels I watched on Sunday. We had a couple of brief chats, one about his cancer treatment and another about getting big Pharma to behave better. He claims some progress there (voluntary restrictions on DTC, better posting of clinical trial data, reductions in marketing excess to docs). I suggested that there was more progress required both in pricing policy and PR. He said it was hard, I told him that was why they paid him the big bucks.
So Paul Krugman, the NY Times Nobel Prize winning lefty columnist, says this (and echoes what I’ve been saying for a while)
So where in America is there serious consideration of moving away from fee-for-service to a more comprehensive, integrated approach to health care? The answer is: Massachusetts — which introduced a health-care plan three years ago that was, in some respects, a dress rehearsal for national health reform, and is now looking for ways to help control costs.
Why does meaningful action on medical costs go along with compassion? One answer is that compassion means not closing your eyes to the human consequences of rising costs. When health insurance premiums doubled during the Bush years, our health care system “controlled costs” by dropping coverage for many workers — but as far as the Bush administration was concerned, that wasn’t a problem. If you believe in universal coverage, on the other hand, it is a problem, and demands a solution.
So universal coverage systems find that they can’t just let the health care system increase costs because there is no safety valve of the uninsured to dump out of the system. We’re all in it.
I do have some vague sympathy for the Blue Dogs, the group of mostly red-state Democrats who have to pretend that they care about fiscal responsibility. They, like me, think that we shouldn’t be increasing taxes on the non-health sector to pay for universal coverage. Unlike me they think that we should be reducing any commitment to universal coverage by reducing the level at which subsidies for people mandated to buy health care coverage cut off—which will leave us in a situation with lots of people who forgo coverage because they can’t afford it. I of course think that we should be finding the money to cover the uninsured from within the 16% of GDP we already spend on health care and then ratchet that overall number down, but then again I don’t have to get elected to Congress.
But I do have one modest question. Where were the dogs/devils’ concerns about the deficit when George Bush was borrowing for the future to pay for income and dividend tax rebates for the very wealthy, by invading Iraq and hiding the accounting, and by creating the boondoggle that was the Medicare Modernization Act. Now it’s late at night and I’m not going to go chasing voting records from 2001–3. But I sure have my guess….
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and b.s. discussed about the comparatively minor health reform that’s snaking its way through Congress. And when I say comparatively minor I mean it. Mostly because there’s lots this legislation doesn’t do.
1) There’s no significant reform of how we pay for health care—even though Orszag, Obama et al want it, and maybe Rockerfeller will inject the “MedPAC as Federal Health Board” into the end result….but I doubt it.
2) There’s no significant change in how we raise money for health care. Employment-based insurance stays as it is. Medicare and Medicaid basically stay as they are. Even if there are NO revenue sources for extending care to the uninsured, it’s still only a roughly a 5% increase in the cost of health care. If you hadn’t noticed we get that increase every year anyway! (By the way CBO actually scores the economics as being significantly better than that).
3) There’s no significant tax increase. Well the apologists say so, but the proposed tax increase on very high earners is trivial compared to how well they’ve done in the last twenty years. The chart below shows the share of overall earnings since the 1980s.
Over the last few months, I have become increasingly disheartened over the prospects for meaningful health care reform.
First, the process is terribly conflicted, and it shows. In the first quarter of 2009, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that the health care industry contributed $128 million to Congress. Now that the tide has turned, this has gone mostly to Democrats who, as it turns out, are just as receptive as their Republican predecessors.
Most health care experts agree the reason our system is so
unaffordable is because of all of the waste and unnecessary care—up to
30% of what we spend.I will suggest that it will take the
genius of individual creativity to separate the 70% of this health care
system that is the best in the world from the 30% that is waste.So
far, the Congress has focused more on entitlement expansion then
fundamentally reforming the system and tackling the real
problem—getting all the excess costs out. The result so far is
expensive health care proposals and no real reform.How can we actually make the health care system affordable as we expand coverage? I will suggest a three-pronged attack:
Ah-ha. Michael Cannon has now replied to me and it basically comes down in his mind to me being a crypto-fascist Stalinist wanting to break the will of the American people mediated through its representatives, the health care industry lobbyists. His piece is The Ultimate Question: Freedom or Power?
He closes by saying that I could only fix the health care system by getting rid of constitutional democracy. And Michael’s right.
Lieberman: How do companies manipulate the medical loss ratio?Potter: They look at expensive claims of workers in small businesses who are insured by the company, and the claims of people in the individual market. If an employer-customer has an employee or two who has a chronic illness or needs expensive care, the claims for the employee will likely trigger a review. Common industry practice is to increase premiums so high that when such accounts come up for renewal, the employer has no choice but to reduce benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering benefits entirely. More and more have opted for the last alternative.