Category: Health Care Access

Widespread Government Failure In Health Care

UntitledThe Commonwealth Fund has published yet another survey comparing health care in the United States to health care in other countries. The title emphasizes US Adults Still Struggle With Access To And Affordability Of Health Care.

Really? As I’ve previously written, I agree fully with the Commonwealth Fund scholars that health care in the U.S. is inefficiently delivered and over bureaucratized. Nevertheless, suggesting U.S. health care is the worst overall is not consistent with the data.

The latest survey compares 11 developed democracies. The relationship between government control of health care and various measures of health status is not at all clear, despite other countries having so-called “universal” health systems.

When it comes to actual access to care, 35 percent of low-income Americans (with household incomes below one half the median income) had to wait six or more days to see a primary-care doctor or nurse the last time they needed care. However, so did 38 percent of low-income Germans and 32 percent of low-income Swedes.

Health, Wealth and Personal Responsibility

How much is Obamacare really worth? This is an important question as we approach the incoming Trump Administration. Should he backtrack on his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare on Day One? If Trump merely instructed his HHS Secretary to drop the appeal of House v Burwell most insurers would probably bail out of the market and it would collapse. If Congress uses a Budget Reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare provisions, such as the individual mandate, employer mandate, the Obamacare taxes and the subsidies, the health insurance exchange would probably collapse.

The Big Government Conspiracy to Protect Rich Guys

moneyI am not a proponent of conspiracy theories. That said: some conspiracies are real — and designed to protect the wealthy at everyone else’s expense. I’m referring, of course, to the conspiracy by the medical industrial complex to keep medicine costly. The conspiracy insulates the industry and its practitioners from competition using regulatory barriers and exclusive licensure cartels. At first glance these may all seem reasonable, but they extort one-fifth of our national income.

How Long Should You Have to Wait to See a Doctor?

dogvetwait

How long should you have to wait to see a doctor? Why not just call a doctor?

The patient in the photo was able to get a same-day appointment within 15 minutes of the request and was seen within 10 minutes after arriving. But that is an exception in the United States. A recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care estimated the average physician visit takes two hours (121 minutes). That includes travel time (37 minutes), waiting time (about an hour) and treatment time (10 to 20 minutes). Of course, that’s once you get an appointment.

Medicaid Expansion Also Expands ER Use

A new report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Medicaid expansion in Oregon actually increased use of the emergency room (ER) by people newly covered by Medicaid. Policy experts had expected ER use to fall as people gained coverage and could have a usual source of care, such as a primary care physician.  Within the first 15 months after gaining coverage, ER use spiked by about 40%, and remained high for subsequent years. It did not appear the people using the emergency room were necessarily substituting ER visits for primary care physicians (PCP) visits. Rather, PCP visits and ER visits appeared to be complementary.

Mercatus senior research fellow Brian Blase covers the implications in much more detail at Forbes. Blase points out that the value of Medicaid benefits is less than the cost, enrollees are misusing their benefits (ER visits when primary care would suffice). ER overuse makes it harder for those truly in need of emergency care to be seen in a timely manner. It is also arguably why the cost of  Medicaid expansion is far above initial projections.

 

Is It Now Okay to Sell Your Kidney in the U.S.?

man-in-wheelchairThere is a global shortage of many organs for transplantation. How about just increasing the supply of organs through a free market? The idea of allowing people to sell their organs for personal gain grosses many of us out. Although, it is legal to sell our plasma, and many poor Americans find it profitable to do so.

The moral case for a market in organs has been made by Professors Kathryn Shelton and Richard B. McKenzie at the Library of Economics & Liberty. Yet, it is illegal to sell your organ for transplantation in the U.S. Or is it? A major insurer may have found a side door into this market, by offering up to $5,000 to kidney donors to cover their travel expenses. Clever, eh?

Is this the Insurance Casualty Model; Or Just a Dirty Trick?

The health insurance “Casualty Model” is alive and well in Georgia — but only as a punishment for not signing an in-network agreement or accepting usual and customary reimbursement for emergency room treatments.  At issue is a Georgia hospital (and one in Los Angeles) that are not part of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia network. Because neither of the hospitals are part of the insurer’s network, when covered individuals go to the hospitals’ emergency rooms, the insurer sends reimbursement checks for emergency care directly to enrollees. The enrollees are then supposed to endorse the checks over to the hospital.  This is similar to the casualty model when an insurer provides funds for a covered claim and the covered individual shops around and receives a service at the provider of their choice. When someone slid into my car during an ice storm a few years ago, an adjuster came to my office and calculated an estimate. I received the check and was told I could get my car repaired almost anywhere for the estimated amount.

Texas’ Largest Insurer to Increase Premiums 60%

An article by Ricardo Alonso-Zildivar of the Associated Press claims Texas’ largest health insurer plans to raise premiums by as much as 60 percent next year. The article assures us few people will be harmed — most enrollees have their premiums capped as a percentage of household income. Thus, it’s actually taxpayers who will get gouged. The article does admit that some people — those who are too wealthy to qualify for premium subsidies — may suffer sticker shock next November when they price their coverage for 2017.

Health Status Related to Income Not Insurance

Women joggingAn extremely thorough analysis of changes in incomes and mortality in the United States, 2001 through 2014 presents some sobering conclusions for those who think fixing our health system will make us healthier. The research, let by Raj Chetty of Stanford University, ran data on incomes and mortality through a battery of statistical tools.

It is well understood that people in high-income households are healthier than those in low-income households. The latest research demonstrates how important incomes are to health status. Forty-year old men in households in the highest quartile of income (mean = $256,000 annually) had an average life expectancy just under 85 years in 2001. This increased by 0.20 years (a little over ten weeks) by 2014. For those in the lowest quartile ($17,000), life expectancy was about 76 years in 2001, and it only increased 0.08 years (a little over four weeks) by 2014.

Obamacare is likely to accelerate this gap, because it significantly reduces incentives for people in low-income households to increase their incomes.

A ‘Free Health Clinic’ for Montana State Employees

Before he left office, then-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer decided Montana’s 11,000 state workers, retirees and their dependents needed an employee health clinic. Before leaving office he had one created without consulting the legislature. For those of you who have not heard of the concept, it’s sort of like the school nurse, except there are doctors and real medical equipment involved. At most employee health clinics, physician visits are either free or involve no cost-sharing. Montana employees aren’t required to use the clinic; they can continue to see their own doctors with the normal cost-sharing.