More Blather about Healthcare from "Experts"

Acknowledge the basic facts about how the healthcare system is working today.

Yesterday in a radio interview, “How to conquer health care challenges”, with Professor Glenn Melnick  from the Rand Corporation and USC, we were again offered up “expert” opinion that does not even acknowledge the basic facts about how the healthcare system is working today.

Here are a couple of examples from the interview lead by Kai Ryssdal:

“RYSSDAL: Well, let me make sure I understand that. If doctors and hospitals are making less money, what is that do for the quality of care? I’m just trying to think about the argument that’s going to come up on Capitol Hill on this one.

MELNICK: Quality will have to suffer in some way. Whether it’s through reduced access, whether it’s through slower development of new technology…….”

The US spends nearly 50% more on healthcare than the next closest country (Switzerland) and more than twice most developed nations. Yet our basic outcomes of infant mortality and longevity remain at near third world performance. These are the facts of our situation. Money is not the problem. It is what we spend our money on that is the problem. To say that quality will inevitably decline as a result of spending less money is just nonsense. This flies in the face of the facts of the performance of all of the developed countries in the world, except us.

Within the current US performance there are clear demonstrations of how superior performance is not driven by spending more money

Even within the current US performance there are clear demonstrations of how superior performance is not driven by spending more money. Just read “THE COST CONUNDRUM: What a Texas town can teach us about health care.” by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker. Here is part of Gwande’s discussion of this point:

Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse. For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen. Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending—Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida—were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care.

Melnick is not done demonstrating his lack of awareness of further basics about how healthcare works in the US.

There are a number of economists who feel that health-care is expensive for good reason. And the reason is that it’s valuable. That new innovation and new technology, while it may add to the cost of the health-care system, also brings with it tremendous benefits. The real challenge is can we develop a system to do the research to identify those things that are going to be high value in the first place, and to screen out those things that are low value and not adopt them as quickly as we have in the past. And that will be a challenge, but I think there’s potential savings there. I don’t know any country that has done it very well so far, because new innovation is just so complex and hard to predict.

One of the well reported facts about “innovation” in American medicine is that there is no requirement for new technologies, new procedures, new medical devices, or even new drugs to prove their efficacy. This is well known and examples of the consequences are abundant. If we only knew which of all these “innovations” really provided improvements in healthcare outcomes we would all be better of and probably at a lower cost.

I am not sure who Professor Melnick is, but, based on his performance during this interview, he would appear to be another example of that alternative text for PhD.