Surprise Medical Bills A Growing Problem Requiring Price Transparency

 

Doctors Rushing Patient down Hall(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Donald Trump’s health reform proposal during the presidential campaign promised to deliver price transparency to health care:

Require price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals. Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.

Doctors and hospitals are infamously terrible at sharing price information with patients. It is a problem for both scheduled procedures and visits to emergency rooms. The root problem is not that providers are unwilling to share prices, but that prices are not formed through a normal market process. Instead they are administratively determined between government, insurers, and providers.

I have spoken with doctors who believe it would be illegal for them to disclose the price of a procedure to a patient before the insurer or government approved the claim! On the other hand, insurers’ and employers’ price transparency tools are not useful to most patients, and go largely unused.

A recent Consumers Union survey found nearly one third of Americans who had hospital visits or surgery in the past two years were charged an out-of-network fee when they thought all care was in-network. Other research from the Brookings Institution suggests this problem is getting worse.

The Price is Right! Trump’s Choice Indicates Push to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

 

220px-Tom_PriceDonald Trump’s choice of Dr. Tom Price as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services indicates the Trump Administration will make a serious effort to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered health reform.

After some initial signs of hesitation at actually trying to achieve this six-year old campaign promise, Obamacare’s opponents can now be confident that skilled leadership will wage a sophisticated and likely successful effort to restart health reform. Here are four reasons why:

GDP: Tame Health Spending Confirmed In Strong Report

 

BEAFor those (like me) concerned about how much health spending continues to increase after Obamacare, the second report of third quarter Gross Domestic Product confirmed good news. Although GDP growth was revised up $10 billion, only a scratch was due to health spending. It is good to have a breather from the second quarter, which was dominated by growth in health services spending.

Overall, real GPD increased 3.1 percent on the quarter, while health services spending increased only 2.3 percent, and contributed only 9 percent of real GDP growth. Growth in health services spending was also in line with other services spending and personal consumption expenditures (PCE). However, the annualized change in the health services price index increased by 1.7 percent, lower than the price increase of 1.3 percent in non-health GDP but less than the 2.8 percent price increase for non-health services.

(See Table I below the fold.)

The White Man’s Burden: More Drinking, Drugs, and Suicides Since 2000

 

Senior Man ThinkingMore nonsense has been written about white nationalism/supremacy in the wake of Donald Trump’s election than anyone should have to read. So, it is a pleasure to find some actual data analysis on the role of non-college educated white citizens in the success of the Trump candidacy, especially versus Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 campaign.

The Economist has estimated health status explains the Trump vote better than being a non-college educated white citizen does. The sicker you are, the more likely you are to have voted for Mr. Trump. Non-college educated whites are also likely to be sicker, so the two variables are not independent. Nevertheless:

Opioid Mouth Spray Costs 200 Times More than Patch

 

become-richThe drug fentanyl — which is up to 50 times stronger than heroin — is available in generic form. It is also a highly addictive street drug, manufactured in back-alley labs and laced in heroin to boost its potency. Fentanyl is used to treat extreme chronic pain that is unresponsive to other opioid pain relievers, such as breakthrough pain cancer patients often suffer. A fentanyl transdermal patch costs from $5 to $12 depending on the dose per hour. A 12 micrograms (mcg) per hour patch retails for about $5 and offers 72 hours of pain relief, whereas the 100 microgram per hour patch is about $12 with GoodRx coupon. Sounds like a bargain; pain-free bliss for $2 to $4 a day. That works out to about $50 to $125 per month.

Will Trump Really Kick 22 Million Off Health Insurance?

 

Healthcaredotgov(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Now that repeal of Obamacare is within striking distance, Obamacare’s supporters and the media are aghast at over 20 million people potentially losing their overly expensive health insurance.

If Republican politicians cannot overcome this objection, they will never move forward with repealing and replacing Obamacare. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee anticipates it will take “several years” to transition out of Obamacare to a patient-centered health system.

Why would Republican politicians balk at fulfilling a promise on which they have campaigned successfully since 2010? The answer lies in the swamp which President-elect Trump promises to drain – Washington, DC. Remember every industry in the health sector acceded to Obamacare in 2010 because it would permanently divert funds from the rest of the economy into the health sector.

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.

Big Pharma and Access to Medicines

 

prescription-drugsHaving written critically about a decision made by Doctors Without Borders /Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to reject a donation of vaccines by Pfizer, Inc., I am grateful for a new report which ranks research-based pharmaceutical companies on a number of measurements of how they make medicines available to patients in low-income countries.

Jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and British and Dutch taxpayers, the Access to Medicine Index ranks 20 large drug makers. It is a very thorough report:

What Will TrumpCare Look Like?

 

Five people waiting in waiting roomPresident-elect Donald Trump made repealing Obamacare the cornerstone of his campaign. Now that he has won, his future administration is faced with the daunting task of unraveling nearly seven years of Obamacare.  It will not be easy. The most pressing goal should be to replace all the costly provisions in Obamacare with the consumer-friendly health plans most Americans prefer. In the process, reformers must change the way medical care is financed so that consumers have control over their health care dollars as well as the means to pay for medical care over their lifetimes.

CPI: Flat Medical Prices Lower Than Inflation

 

blsThe Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent in October. Remarkably, medical prices were flat overall. This is the second month in a row we have enjoyed medical price relief. Even prescription drugs rose by only 0.2 percent, half the rate of headline CPI, while prices of non-prescription drugs dropped significantly. Even the price of health insurance dropped a smidgeon!

Prices for inpatient hospital services rose the most, by 0.6 percent. As noted in my discussion of the Producer Price Index, this bears closer watching as President-elect Trump promises more spending on infrastructure, including hospitals.

Over the last 12 months, however, medical prices have increased three times faster than non-medical prices: 1.4 percent versus 4.3 percent. Price changes for medical care contributed 22 percent of the overall increase in CPI.

Many observers of medical prices decline to differentiate between nominal and real inflation. Because CPI is has been low until recently, even relatively moderate nominal price hikes for medical care are actually substantial real price hikes. More than six years after the Affordable Care Act was passed, consumers have not seen relief from high medical prices, which have increased over twice as much as the CPI less medical care since March 2010, the month President Obama signed the law.

(See Figure I and Table I below the fold.)