Remember my post a few months back about how some large companies were getting waivers so they didn’t have to pay into the new health care system? Things are getting worse. According to this article on The Hill, the feds just granted new insurance waivers to more than 500 groups, bringing the total number of individuals covered by waivers to 2.1 million.
The system just isn’t going to work.
Let me get my soapbox out here. [Tap tap tap] Is this thing on? Good.
First, there’s still this misconception that the “mandate” to purchase insurance will somehow translate into accessibility of medical care. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve said it before. Purchasing health insurance doesn’t mean that you have access to health care any more than purchasing car insurance means that you have access to a car. If your insurance is cut-rate, chances are that your medical care will be cut-rate. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
The general idea of “insurance” is conceptually sound. Everyone pays into a system to spread the risk of paying for a catastrophic event. You pay$100 per month to presumably avoid having to pay $100,000 or more if you have a major medical event. The amount of money paid into a system is dependent upon how much money is taken out of the system. If there is a surge in the number of people needing medical care, one of two things happens: More money has to be paid into the system or less money has to be taken out of the system through rationing of medical care or providing lower quality less expensive medical care. There aren’t any other variables to change. Cost, availability, and quality. That’s it.
The proposed system creates too many loopholes. It caters to special interests. It changes the cost/availability/quality variables in ways that the public doesn’t realize. So lets look at a few examples.
First, what exactly are we getting for our money in the current system – or in the proposed system? Many people don’t know. With regular insurance plans, your policy guides coverage. Maybe you have exclusions for certain conditions. Maybe there is a limit on how much the insurance company will pay for a certain type of care. Maybe certain types of care (like dental care or vision care) is unavailable. But at least you know what you’re getting. Can anyone say with certainty what type of medical care they’re going to get once they start paying into the new and improved health care system? I sure can’t. The lack of specifics opens everyone up to being refused care once they’ve paid into the system. After all, the feds and/or insurance companies can just say “We never agreed to pay for that type of care.” In essence, we’re paying for what’s behind the curtain without really seeing what’s behind the curtain.
Speaking about “exclusions” on insurance, under the current plan, “exclusions” on insurance policies will be limited. True that insurance companies have used exclusions and rescissions unethically in the past, but when used appropriately, exclusions keep people from gaming the system. If you’ve had a bum knee for 20 years, you shouldn’t be able to pay one month’s insurance premiums and then be entitled to the newest titanium replacement, the services of the best orthopedist, and unlimited therapy. If everyone gamed the system that way, the system would collapse because there would be a tremendous funding input/output mismatch that couldn’t be sustained by just increasing insurance premiums. No one would purchase “insurance” because they know that they could just get a policy once a catastrophe either occurred or was about to occur. Outlawing or severely limiting insurance exclusions essentially amounts to allowing people to purchase homeowner’s “insurance” while their house is burning to the ground. Result: Quality of care will decrease or costs of insurance will skyrocket – or both. Our family’s health insurance premiums have jumped about 30% in the past 8 months, so we know where this is headed.
Then there is the issue of spreading risk. Remember how everyone needs to pay into the system to spread the risk? When fewer people pay into the system, either the amount of care decrease to create a new equilibrium point with input/output of funding -or- everyone else must pay more into the system to maintain the status quo. Look at all of the waivers that have been granted under the new health care legislation thus far. Multibillion dollar companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Aetna, and McDonalds are all getting a pass on purchasing insurance. When people want to use the system but they don’t pay into the system, they create a greater expense for those who do pay into the system. Why there are so many insurance companies and unions receiving these waivers, anyway?
There is also a religious exemption to purchasing insurance. Whether Amish, Muslims, or other religious groups will be exempt from purchasing insurance under the new health care plan remains to be seen, but ultimately if they do receive care and don’t pay into the system, those extra unfunded participants will result in additional increases in expense and/or decreases in care.
Yesterday, I posted a comment to ERP (from ER Stories) on Kevin’s blog about ERP’s notion that the “mandate” was a good thing. In that comment, I noted that one of the other issues that we have to address is the tremendous amount of inefficiency in our current system. Bureaucracy has to diminish, not increase. Empowering the IRS to enforce the insurance mandate is heading in the wrong direction.
We also need to learn to say that we aren’t going to pay for medical care that has a negligible effect.
Providers have to be comfortable doing that and the public has to become comfortable hearing that.
End of life care needs to be compassionate, but made with the understanding that everyone is going to die. We need to become comfortable with the ideas of hospice care. Yes, maybe we can eek another few weeks out of your loved one’s life, but what will the quality of that time be? How much should we pay to keep the shell of the person that was once your loved one alive? There have to be checks and balances in place to prevent “death panels” but we can’t afford the system of end of life care as we know it. It’s a tough question, but it is one that needs to be asked and one that needs to be addressed.
Medications are another huge expense. Track medication use. Have a national database of what patients are getting what medications at what pharmacies. This will decrease multiple prescriptions from different providers and decrease adverse medication interactions or overdoses from the little old ladies who can’t remember their medications. If you aren’t taking your medications, a national registry will also let us know that you aren’t filling your prescriptions.
If you can’t afford your prescriptions, you can go to the federal medication dispensary inside the federal health care clinic at the free VA system and get your medications for free. They will have a limited formulary with mostly generic medications. If you don’t want to wait in line at the federal dispensary, then you go to the pharmacy and pay for the prescriptions out of your pocket. If you want the new designer medications that have the same effect as WalMart’s $4 medications, that’s fine. You need to pay for them out of your own pocket. If your doctor won’t work with you to find a medication on the $4 list, then find another doctor.
Introduce free market forces into the medication market and prices will have to come down. Pharmaceutical companies can’t make money on their blockbuster drug if no one can afford to purchase it. Want to hedge your bet against being stuck purchasing outrageously expensive medications for an orphan disease? Maybe there’s an insurance policy for that.
Stop playing semantics regarding the need to fund the system. The administration has already admitted that the “mandate” is really a “tax.” Call it a tax and implement it like a tax. If the public wants access to care, we need to increase everyone’s taxes. Kick up the Medicare tax deduction from everyone’s paychecks by 10% and forget about the “exemptions” and waivers from the “mandate.” Everybody pays their fair share. Tie the Medicare tax to costs of care. If costs go up, the tax goes up, but if costs go down, so will the taxes. Maybe we implement some type of consumption-based tax so that even those who are in this country illegally, who are visiting from other countries, or who do not work will still pay something into the system when they purchase groceries and other necessities of living.
Then do something to actually increase ACCESS to care. Open up the VA System to every citizen in this country. Expand the system to include county hospitals as well. Fund the systems exclusively with the new tax money. Then, if you walk in the door with your verifiable US ID, you get free care. All those taxes you paid are now funding your care. If you are visiting this country, you purchase insurance before your trip or you pay with a credit card – just U.S. citizens do when they visit your country. If you’re here illegally, you still get care, but then you’re getting detained, processed, and deported once you’re discharged from the hospital or you’re stable for transfer. You’re breaking our laws, so it’s about time that we either enforce our laws or we change our laws.
What would happen if we repealed the health care law and put the system above in its place?