Author Interview

JAMA, April 16, 2013

Uwe E. Reinhardt, PhD, economics professor at Princeton:  On this point, I’m very disappointed that we Americans couldn’t even get the exchanges right. As Atul said, an exchange is really just like the personnel benefit department at General Motors. It’s just an electronic market to buy health insurance. I could show you the Swiss or the German exchanges. We have now made a horrendous mess of these exchanges. It cost close to a billion dollars to implement the California exchange, and heaven knows what’s happening in the other states. I was thinking if this generation of Americans had to plan the Normandy invasion, I think they would never have gotten there, or by the time they got there, the Russians would have been there. It is just unbelievable what an administrative nightmare the Affordable Care Act has become. Americans always tell me – I’m just an immigrant trying to learn about this country – they always tell me, oh, one size doesn’t fit all. Well, tell that to McDonald’s or to the Holiday Inn. In fact, Americans invented the idea that one size fits all, and built great industries on it – the auto companies, the food services, the hotels, the department stores – they’re all one size fits all.

Ed Livingston, deputy editor of JAMA:  You mentioned that companies like McDonald’s and Holiday Inn have been very successful in building large industries with uniformities, but those are private industries. Is the problem that when the government tries to take on something this complex they just can’t seem to get it done?

Uwe Reinhardt:  Well, it’s for the reason that Atul mentioned, that somehow we give enormous respect to regional variations, and, because we do, we make everything enormously complex. Imagine if you ran the U.S. Army that way. Soldiers from every state could pick their own rifles, and so on and so forth. Sometimes you have to do national things. I recently wrote a Health Affairs piece and said, every American is a dual citizen. He has citizenship in the state that they live in and citizens in America. And it really depends when you draft federal legislation, which citizenship do you make supreme. Typically you find Democrats put American citizenship up on top. The idea being that a baby in Mississippi should have the same rights to access to health care as a baby in Massachusetts, because they are both Americans. I think more on the Republican side they would say, no, what happens to a Mississippi baby is up to the people down there, and you can do what you want to a Massachusetts baby up there in Massachusetts. Now, that’s a different conception, neither right or wrong, but I’m saying on some issues we really, in my view, should have national policies because it would be much more easy to administer. After all, that’s what we said in Medicare. We said no matter where the elderly live, they should have the same deal in health care, and we created Medicare. Has Medicare been that much of a disaster?

Audio (April 16,2013): http://jama.jamanetwork.com/multimedia.aspx#AuthorInterviews

Hmmm.

“It is just unbelievable what an administrative nightmare the Affordable Care Act has become.”

“…they always tell me, oh, one size doesn’t fit all. Well, tell that to McDonald’s or to the Holiday Inn.”

“…but I’m saying on some issues we really, in my view, should have national policies because it would be much more easy to administer.”

“We said no matter where the elderly live, they should have the same deal in health care, and we created Medicare. Has Medicare been that much of a disaster?”

So can we draw the conclusion that we should adopt the administrative simplicity of a national, one-size-fits-all Medicare that gives everyone the same deal in health care? Seems like a really good idea.