Tag: universal health care

The Next Healthcare Battle

Thursday 7/20/2017 – Most people are at the least relieved with the demise of the latest vicious Republican healthcare proposal cooked by old-all-white-all-male-Republican Senators. Obamacare appears to be safe for the moment. But now is the time to double down on the battle for real healthcare reform in this country.

Millions are still not covered by Obamacare; the performance of the healthcare system is appalling; it is a giant ripoff of over-priced-super-profitable prescriptions and procedures masquerading as health.

Here are the basic facts:

  • Health outcomes: the US ranks
    • 56th in infant mortality out of 225 countries;
    • 48th in maternal mortality out of 184;
    • 42nd in life expectancy at birth out of 224.1
    • all developed countries provide universal healthcare and do much better
  • Healthcare spending: the US spends more than double per capita on healthcare compared to other developed countries.

    (click for full size)

Obamacare Is Not the Solution

Obama and the Democrats never had the political will and strength to tell the pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies that their game was over. We should be outraged that they charge exorbitantly high prices and deliver terrible results. But they live in a marketplace where they set the prices and the incentives in their marketplace urge them on to prescribe more drugs and procedures. The things that are being purchased in their marketplace are not health. We need to demand that we develop a healthcare system focused on health not profits.

The Proof Is In the Pudding

Just look at the chart from the Commonwealth Fund2 comparing performance and spending. Certainly if all of these countries (and others not included in this study) have figured out how to deliver much better healthcare at half the cost we need to demand that our government do at least as well.

 

 

  1. Current CIA The World Factbook – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ accessed 5/13/2017 []
  2. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2017/jul/mirror-mirror-international-comparisons-2017 accessed 07192017 []

Healthcare and Markets – why don’t they work together?

A consistent chattering point in American discussions of healthcare is the claim that if we can only bring transparency and competition to healthcare we will drive prices down and bring sanity to healthcare. The rest of the world knows that this is not the answer but we seem to remain in the thrall of universal free-market thinking.

To answer this question lets start with an example of a market that works reasonably well and which we all know very well. In our little patch here in Hudson we have four supermarkets within about a six mile radius servicing roughly 20 thousand people. I can choose to shop at Price Chopper, ShopRight, Hannafords, or Walmart. There are also farmer’s markets and roadside stands. I have lots of suppliers to choose from. Generally I shop at two places, but I certainly stop at all of them with some frequency. When I step inside I regularly pick up the green and red peppers, the onions, and other vegetables that I like to chop up for my cooking. Now, I do not hold a degree from CIA (Culinary Institute of America) so I am not exactly expert, but I generally can identify a fresh vegetable when I see one. Unlike some Presidents I do know how much things generally cost and there are price points for green peppers, for example, that reduce how many I pick up from three or four to one or none.

So,  a functioning market has a number of suppliers (sellers) and lots of buyers. The product for sale is understood by the buyers and they can examine it for quality readily. Prices move up and down in reaction to supply and demand. Market capitalism in action.

Health is not a green pepper

Health is complex and above all it is about life and death of the buyer, me and you. It is inherently emotional. Generally, people will do whatever is necessary to avoid pain and discomfort. This is not a choice between green and yellow peppers. Further, diagnosis and treatment options require many years of advanced education and training to understand. It is simply not true, and never will be true, that people without this training can make well informed decisions about which treatment path to take. Then, unlike our supermarket example, here in Hudson there is one supplier of health services, Columbia Memorial Health, the local hospital. To choose a different supplier I can drive an hour north to Albany or 45 minutes south to Rhinebeck. Even in Boston where I lived for many years, the choices were broader but then I was faced with the fact that the appearance of choice confronted me with my lack of expertise to make a well informed optimal decision. Health is not green peppers. Doctors and hospitals are not grocery stores. I did not graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Fee for services not for health – perverse incentives in action

In reality our market based healthcare system operates just as one would expect given the imbalance of expertise and relative small number of suppliers.  The suppliers have enormous power and they are taking advantage of the buyers, us. They set the prices as they wish. Through historical accident we have added a mixture of government and private insurance that obscures what is going on. Worse, this market is not selling health at all. In a self-enriching cycle, the doctors and hospitals are incentivized to use as many tests, procedures, and prescriptions as possible. They are paid for these; not for health. This is the pay for service model.

Every other developed country in the world understands all of this very well and has for decades. Each country has evolved systems to establish a national or regional budget per capita for health. This is done in negotiations between the government, other stakeholders, and the medical providers. The providers are expected to deliver health. Markets and profits enter, if at all, only peripherally. It is up to them to determine how many tests, procedures and drugs to prescribe. They can decide that preventive medicine is more effective than costly technology intensive treatment. They  optimize the mix.

The proof is in the pudding

Here are a set of facts that speak loudly to both the cost and poor quality of the American healthcare system. The US spends $9,800 per capita on healthcare. Our developed country cohort spends approximately one half of that (excepting Switzerland the outlier at approximately 70% of our spending). These countries all achieve a life expectancy between 81 and 83 years while the US is at 79 years. This numerically small gap in fact represents a very significant gap in performance. According to the most recent CIA World Factbook: “The US ranks 56th in infant mortality out of 225 countries; 48th in maternal mortality out of 184; and 42nd in life expectancy at birth out of 224.“ These facts should outrage all Americans.

Click for large size.

The Democratic Party and Healthcare – Preserving Obamacare Cannot Be The End Game

While our current attention is on the Republican Party’s transfer of wealth to the rich and corporations through the charade of a healthcare reform, the Democratic Party needs to face up to its future and the future of our healthcare system in particular.

The Global Context

The chart shown here tells you everything you need to know about the outrageous amounts of money we pay versus the astonishingly poor outcomes for our health. Basically we pay twice (200% more) than almost every other developed country in the world for healthcare that is distinctly second rate.1 To put it simply we have a healthcare system that is ripping us off and laughing all the way to the golf course. It is a market system that incentivizes tests, procedures, and prescriptions, not health. It is a market system in which the providers, doctors, hospitals, insurance and pharmaceutical companies set prices as they wish.  Our healthcare system consumes just shy of 20% of our economic output. Our developed country competitors use 8%-10% of their output.

click for large size.

Preserving Obamacare is not enough to bridge these gaps.

Obamacare addresses the lack of access to healthcare in a significant but hardly comprehensive manner. It only hints at changes to the incentives and pricing that drive the unhealthy outcomes. Obamacare is not the solution. Better than nothing, but given the enormous resources being spent and the fundamental failings of the outcomes it is not sufficient.

Health Not Profits

In order to create a world class healthcare system we need to focus it on health not profits. Every other developed country long ago recognized that a market based system would not work because health is not a commodity like corn, cars, or cell phones. It is complex, multi-dimensional, and emotional. It requires a system capable of a holistic approach to people and the society they live in. Each of the countries with universal healthcare approaches implementation very differently in the details, but all have some sort of national/regional health budget that is negotiated with the various constituents. This amounts to a lump sum per person with which the health system operates to deliver health outcomes. The proof that it works is in the chart above. 

Outrage and Political Will – Stop Taking Big Money from the Rich and Corporations

The Democratic Party must absorb the reality of our situation. We need to develop and express some outrage at the current healthcare providers. It will not be a simple task to bring a sector of the economy that consumes nearly a fifth of economic output to understand that we cannot allow this to continue. We need them to evolve to a system that consumes a tenth while vastly improving healthcare for the entire population. A basic truth here is that we as a society cannot and should not allow one sector to consume so many resources, so inequitably, for such poor outcomes. In the global context this is not sustainable and makes us less competitive and less flexible to meet the changes. 

None of this will happen as long as Democrats are taking money from the rich and corporations. If there is a single lesson from the Bernie Sanders campaign it is that with messages and programs that reflect the needs of the vast majority of Americans, you can raise enough money to fight off the Republican Party and its wealthy and corporate sponsors. Time to start now.

  1. The US ranks 56th in infant mortality out of 225 countries; 48th in maternal mortality out of 184; and 42nd in life expectancy at birth out of 224. – source Current CIA The World Factbook – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ accessed 5/13/2017 []

The Global Context of the US Healthcare Debate

The solution to our healthcare fiasco is first to recognize its true nature and then to face down those who are consuming a fifth of our economic output while producing profoundly bad results. We need to take a much broader view in order to see that, compared to the rest of the developed countries, a) our current healthcare results are abysmal and b) our current healthcare costs are obscene.

Trump Loves Australia’s Universal Government Paid Healthcare, “Better than ours”

Trump loves Australia’s universal healthcare:

Speaking to Australian Prime Minster Trumbull, Trump said, “We have a failing healthcare. I shouldn’t say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better healthcare than we do.” A day later Trump repeated his praise for the Australian healthcare system, “Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do – everybody does,” he wrote on Twitter. “Obamacare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great.”1 Of course in a rare moment of speaking the truth Trump is right about both assertions. Everyone in the developed world has better healthcare than us and at a shocking fraction of the cost.

Trump told Malcolm Turnbull: ‘We have a failing healthcare. I shouldn’t say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better healthcare than we do.’ Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Does Trump know Australia spends $5,495 per person per year vs our $9,990 (yep 66% more!!) for healthcare that ranks in the top ten in the world? Our rank?? 42nd for life span and 54th for infant mortality (see 2015 CIA World Factbook on this). Exactly how the Republican healthcare bill will improve on this performance is unknown. They passed it through Congress without even waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to grade it for cost and effectiveness. Better to vote out of religious fervor than be bothered by how many millions would be thrown off health insurance. 

BTW – Australia is not an outlier in spending and results . All of our developed world competitors have a similar showing.

  1. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/05/trump-healthcare-australia-better-malcolm-turnbull []

Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) Review – Rob Bujan

Dan Udell videotaped a presentation on the US healthcare system by Rob Bujan on 3/25/17. I could not attend so I watched Dan’s YouTube video – 

 The discussions towards the end of this presentation (about minute 50) concerning single-payer systems would have been more vigorous and perhaps useful with a little international context. We live in a world where every other developed country has universal healthcare and has had for decades. So, there is plenty of experience with a range of different structures to deliver healthcare to every person as a right.

Congressman Faso and the proposed American Health Care Act

Congressman Faso

Today I received an email from my Congressman, John Faso, concerning the proposed American Health Care Act. It included a link to a Republican website that speaks to their proposed legislation and a link to the the actual legislation. Asking me to read the legislation is insulting because though I am fairly literate it is well known that the language of legislation is a swamp of references to other pieces of legislation frequently calling for comprehensive knowledge of the topic to even begin understanding its implications. 

The site also spends a lot of time bad-mouthing Obamacare. I get it. Republicans don’t like Obamacare. The question is how will they improve upon it??

The Health Care Debate Is About The Wrong Issues

The rhetoric about our health care system continues to center around market religions of one sort or another. For all of the blathering about “Obamacare” taking us over the edge into the territory of socialized medicine, it remains, like it’s progenitor dreamed up by Romney while governor of Massachusetts, a market focused policy. Even now Massachusetts is struggling to come up with policies to restrain the growth of costs to the rate of inflation plus 1%. At the national level it will be years before Obamacare can begin such considerations in real terms.

What is missing is a willingness by the political system to engage the undeniable truths about our health care system.