Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Big Tech of Health Care - The American Prospect

The Big Tech of Health Care - The American Prospect Comment by Don McCanne UnitedHealth/Optum is BIG - the largest health care entity in the U.S. - representing that medical-industrial complex that Arnold Relman warned us about so many years ago. Well, it's here. And it is structured to make money - a lot of it - and patients just happen to be an essential element in their equation, but patient care is an expense. So much of what they do is to create administrative functions that are designed to reduce spending on patients, and, further, to increase revenues by selling those administrative services. By gaining control of much of the industry - hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, insurance functions - they are in a position to dictate the business terms for health care. So what will happen should we ever be able to enact and implement a single payer Medicare for All program? The model calls for negotiating rates with physicians, global budgets for hospitals and bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals. How do you do that with a mega-corporation like UnitedHealth/Optum? Do you really think that they will accept government negotiations for payment rates for health care entities such as doctors, hospitals and pharmacies while not being paid for their large infrastructure that has been designed to increase revenues? Change Healthcare is a data analytics firm that is used to leverage higher revenues (profits, executive salaries, stock dividends and buybacks); it is not for the purpose of providing quality and value in patient care. Again, the entire corporation is structured to make money with patient services being a necessary expense that is to be minimized as much as possible. Will Medicare for All legislation be written in a way that we can remove passive corporate investors and excess executive salaries from the equation, thus essentially destroying the for-profit corporate structure? Would our conservative courts even uphold such limitations? Health care should be guided by a patient service ethic rather than a business ethic. Can we rein in the medical-industrial complex, or is it too late? The transition to Medicare for all will certainly cross paths with this corporate monster, and something will have to give.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Age of Care | The Nation

The Age of Care | The Nation "... only a radical reconfiguration of the way that health care and other services are delivered to the American people can enhance the dignity and well-being of workers in the caregiving economy. American hospitals and their satellite enterprises must be stripped of their profit-making, empire-building propensities. And for that to happen, we will need to embrace the inherent socialization that must govern health care in our time."

Saturday, April 3, 2021

In U.S., An Estimated 46 Million Cannot Afford Needed Care

In U.S., An Estimated 46 Million Cannot Afford Needed Care Comment by Don McCanne We are spending almost $4 trillion per year on health care, the highest per capita spending of all nations, and yet, because of our dysfunctional health care financing system, far too many U.S. residents are facing potential financial hardship due to these costs. Although the COVID-19 relief bill will provide partial temporary relief for a portion of those affected, it is quite clear that, with the amount we are already spending, the health care financing system still needs major structural reform if we expect to provide affordable access to health care for everyone. Perhaps the most significant finding in this survey is that the majority now supports government action to make health care more affordable. But only 19% of Republicans favor making Medicare available to everyone, and even less, only 15%, support expanding and strengthening the Affordable Care Act. And yet over 70% of Republicans favor setting caps on out-of-pocket costs for Medicare. So do they want the government involved or don't they? Since they have come up with no reasonable alternative (medical savings accounts won't do it), we should move ahead anyway. U.S.-style private insurance is too expensive and inefficient, and they don't really want that anyway based on their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Although other models exist, the most affordable, comprehensive and effective model is single payer improved Medicare for All. The Republicans can either join us or watch, but their inaction can no longer be tolerated.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Importance of the ‘VA Advantage’ - The American Prospect

The Importance of the ‘VA Advantage’ - The American Prospect Comment by Don McCanne Opponents of single payer Medicare for All tell us, "The government can't do anything right; just look at the VA system." Yes, just look at that system - better outcomes at a lower cost. Of course, providing VA care to everyone would be more like socialized medicine through a national health service, whereas single payer Medicare for All would be a social insurance program with a private health care delivery system. Also Medicare for All would be an improved version of Medicare over what we have right now. The point is that our government can do it better, in this case through Medicare rather than through the private insurance industry, so let's let them do it. After all, it is our government, so it should work for us, not the private insurers.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Democrats Gave Americans a Big Boost Buying Health Insurance. It Didn’t Come Cheap. | Kaiser Health News

Democrats Gave Americans a Big Boost Buying Health Insurance. It Didn’t Come Cheap. | Kaiser Health News Comment by Don McCanne This article makes an important point. President Biden and his staff, along with Congress, chose the most expensive method of expanding health care - giving more taxpayer funds to the private insurers. There is a bit of sleight of hand here since it is us - the taxpayers - who are paying these higher prices for a health care financing system heavily dependent on private insurers. Why are costs higher when we use private insurers? The author indicates that private commercial insurers pay more for health care services than government programs, and, by and large, that is correct. But that is a relatively small portion of the higher spending by private insurance, and it does not take into consideration that public programs are more effective at setting appropriate prices - costs plus fair margins - not to mention that they use more efficient financing methods such as global budgeting of hospitals. But what has been ignored in this article is the major reason that private insurers are more expensive, and that is administrative costs. Those extra taxpayer funds going to private insurers include costs such as marketing of their plans, costs of contracting for restrictive provider networks, administering prior authorization requirements, complex systems of processing claims including denial of benefits, simple administrative costs of operating large corporate entities, and distributing generous profits to their executives and passive investors. Which of these administrative services do you want to continue to pay for through increased taxes? So these increased costs that the taxpayers are bearing are not just for more health care, but they are a gift to the most expensive and inefficient financing system on earth. Particularly galling is the fact that the administration is presenting this as if it were a gift from the government to the patients, but that government money is provided by us - the taxpayers. Much of it is hidden from view since a large portion of these taxes we pay are disassociated from health care spending. Keep in mind that funds moved into the health care financing system are not available for other important needs such as food, housing, transportation, education, environment, infrastructure, and so on. A single payer Medicare for All program would fill in our health care financing needs without wasting the hundreds of billions of dollars on these superfluous administrative costs of the private insurers, plus their profits. But they are now talking about making these wasteful expenditures permanent. Maybe they might even add a public option, which would be only one more player in our profoundly inefficient system. As the title of Noam Levey's article indicates, the big boost was in buying health insurance rather than simply health care, and it didn't come cheap. As Paul Starr states, we ended up adding on to an incredibly expensive system. We didn't have to do that. We can still redirect our course toward an efficient, equitable system for all. After all, it's our money, and yet progressive taxation makes health care affordable for all since it is simply based on the ability to pay. That is certainly more efficient than playing games with taxpayer subsidies for premiums and cost sharing for expensive, self-serving private insurers.