Do the insurance industry reports totally lack all credibility?

Posted by on Friday, Dec 4, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Good News on Premiums

Editorial
The New York Times
December 3, 2009

The health insurance industry frightened Americans — and gave Republicans a shrill talking point — when it declared in October that proposed reform legislation would drive up insurance costs for virtually everyone by as much as thousands of dollars a year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office persuasively contradicted that claim this week.

Undaunted, the industry issued a rebuttal report, claiming again that premiums would soar. We find this second industry report no more persuasive than the first.

The insurance industry is not giving up. On Thursday, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association issued a report contending that the C.B.O. underestimated the expected medical costs of people who will be buying policies on the individual (nongroup) market.

(CBO notes that) the legal mandate to obtain coverage, the penalties for noncompliance, and the generous subsidies for low- and middle-income people would encourage most people to enroll without waiting to become sick.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/opinion/04fri1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

And…

Coming Attractions: Insurance Industry Funded Study is Wrong on the Facts… Again…

Posted by Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director
The White House
The White House Blog
December 3, 2009

Later today, the insurance industry releases their latest in a string of flawed analyses designed to confuse the debate around health reform.

In addition to ignoring Congress’s independent budget experts, the new report reaches its conclusions by cherry-picking which policies to analyze – a tactic we’ve seen the industry use repeatedly. Most egregiously, its alarmist headline conclusions leave out the impact that new tax credits will have on the cost of health insurance for families. That makes no sense. In reality, the report itself acknowledges that: “[s]ubsidies will entirely or partially offset these premium increases for some individuals.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/03/coming-attractions-insurance-industry-funded-study-wrong-facts-again

And…

Impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Costs in the Individual and Small-Employer Health Insurance Markets

By Jason Grau and Kurt Giesa
BlueCross BlueShield Association
Oliver Wyman
December 3, 2009

Impact of Subsidies

Subsidies would play an important role in reducing out-of-pocket costs for certain individuals, especially those below 200% of FPL, who are likely to purchase insurance under the proposed reforms. Subsidies will cover more than 90% of premium costs for individuals in this income range, significantly reducing financial barriers to purchasing coverage.

By contrast, our analysis of the Senate bill projects that 8.7 million will not be eligible for the subsidies. Another 3.3 million people who purchase coverage will have incomes of 300-400% FPL and will be eligible for average subsidies of 45% of their premiums (which would not fully offset the cost increases we predict). Finally, 13.3 million lower-income individuals who purchase coverage will have incomes of 100-300% FPL. They will have access to subsidies of 70-90% of their premiums, which will offset much if not all of the increased premiums they will face.

Our modeling predicts that those who are eligible for subsidies will be more likely to purchase insurance than those who are not. However, subsidies will not ensure that young and healthy people participate. Short of achieving 100% coverage, adverse selection will always exist, and the young and healthy will be the most difficult to bring into the market.

Impact of Weak Individual Mandates

The Senate bill requires individuals to purchase insurance coverage or face financial penalties. An amendment accepted during mark-up of the Chairman’s Mark in the Finance Committee, and largely retained in the Senate leadership bill, substantially weakened the bill’s individual mandate. The individual mandate penalty in PPACA is set at just $95 in the first year insurance reforms become effective (2014). This penalty rises gradually, reaching a maximum of $750 per adult in 2016. This maximum penalty is likely to be only about 16 percent of an average premium in 2016, assuming current rates of medical cost inflation.

The amendment also exempts individuals whose premiums exceed 8% of their adjusted gross income (AGI). In 33 states, the average cost of health insurance exceeds eight percent of median state income. In fact, in the first year of reform 25% of the exchange-eligible population will face insurance costs in excess of the 8% AGI threshold and qualify for mandate exemption. Premium increases over a ten-year period will result in nearly half of the population qualifying for mandate exemption status.

Conclusion (excerpt)

The provision of subsidies alone will not offset the impact of insurance reforms on average premiums in the market. A balanced, sustainable insurance pool, that ensures everyone is covered, is critical to making healthcare affordable for all.

http://www.bcbs.com/issues/uninsured/background/patient-protection-affordable-care-act.html

Full report:
http://www.bcbs.com/issues/uninsured/background/Impact-of-the-Patient-Protection-and-Affordable-Care-Act-on-Costs.pdf

Recent reports from the insurance industry, including this report from the BlueCross BlueShield Association, have been targeted by proponents of the current leading reform model as biased reports without credibility – witness the comments by The White House and The New York Times (both also biased). But the fundamental message from the insurance industry is very valid: the reform proposal before Congress does not do nearly enough to control health care costs, and the mandates, subsidies and penalties are inadequate to ensure that all risks are adequately pooled.

This report confirms once again that the subsidies are inadequate, particularly for middle-income families, and likely will result in adverse selection as the healthier take their chances on remaining uninsured. It confirms that the penalty for being uninsured is too small to ensure compliance with the insurance requirement. It also confirms that a very large and rapidly growing number of individuals will be exempt from the mandate to purchase insurance simply because their incomes are inadequate to be able to afford the plans.

There is one statement in this report that the proponents of the proposal before Congress should take careful note of, and it is remarkable that it is coming from the insurance industry: “A balanced, sustainable insurance pool, that ensures everyone is covered, is critical to making health care affordable for all.”

The dysfunctional, fragmented model of health care financing that Congress is moving forward with can never create a balanced, sustainable risk pool, nor can it ensure that everyone is covered, nor can it make health care affordable for all.

We really do need a balanced, sustainable pool that includes everyone and is equitably financed: an improved Medicare for all.

CRS on the health insurance market

Posted by on Thursday, Dec 3, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

The Market Structure of the Health Insurance Industry

By D. Andrew Austin and Thomas L. Hungerford
Congressional Research Service
November 17, 2009

Evidence suggests that health insurance markets are highly concentrated in many local areas. Many large firms that offer health insurance benefits to their employees have self-insured, which may put some competitive pressure on insurers, although this is unlikely to improve market conditions for other consumers. The exercise of market power by firms in concentrated markets generally leads to higher prices and reduced output — high premiums and limited access to health insurance — combined with high profits. Many other characteristics of the health insurance markets, however, also contribute to rising costs and limited access to affordable health insurance. Rising health care costs, in particular, play a key role in rising health insurance costs.

Health costs appear to have increased over time in large part because of complex interactions among health insurance, health care providers, employers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, tax policy, and the medical technology industry. Reducing the growth trajectory of health care costs may require policies that affect these interactions. Policies focused only on health insurance sector reform may yield some results, but are unlikely to solve larger cost growth and limited access problems.

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40834.pdf

About the Congressional Research Service:
http://www.loc.gov/crsinfo/whatscrs.html

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has an outstanding reputation for authoritative, objective and nonpartisan analyses, providing Congress with the analytical support it needs to address the most complex public policy issues facing the nation.

In this 65 page report to Congress on the market structure of the health insurance industry, CRS concludes that “policies focused only on health insurance sector reform may yield some results, but are unlikely to solve larger cost growth and limited access problems.”

The conclusions are certainly no surprise. Every reasonable economist agrees that free market principles do not apply to health care. Yet where is Congress on this? They are moving forward with a proposal that relies heavily on the market of private health plans.

Don’t the members of Congress read their own reports? They need to read this one!

MedPAC on variation in service use

Posted by on Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Report to the Congress: Measuring Regional Variation in Service Use

MedPAC (Medicare Payment Advisory Commission)
December 2009

In this paper, we present data on the difference between regional variation in Medicare spending and regional variation in the use of Medicare-covered services. Regional variation in Medicare spending per beneficiary reflects many factors, including differences in beneficiaries’ health status, Medicare payment rates, service volume (number of services), and service intensity (e.g., MRI versus simple X-ray). In contrast, regional variation in the use of Medicare services reflects only differences in the volume and intensity of services that beneficiaries with comparable health status receive.

… raw per capita spending is 55 percent higher for beneficiaries in the area at the 90th percentile than for beneficiaries in the area at the 10th percentile.

Service use in higher use areas (90th percentile) is about 30 percent greater than in lower use areas (10th percentile).

… the correlation between rate of growth in adjusted spending from 2000 to 2006 and the level of service use in an MSA is slightly negative.

Regional variation in service use is not equivalent to regional variation in Medicare spending. The two should not be confused.

http://www.medpac.gov/documents/Dec09_RegionalVariation_report.pdf

This paper is an important addition to the work of John Wennberg and his colleagues at Dartmouth on regional variation in spending in the Medicare program. It separates the variation in use of services by individuals with comparable health status from other factors that influence spending, especially Medicare payment policies.

The differences are important because they lead to different policy solutions. Policies to ensure adequate but not excessive volume and intensity of services are separate from, though must be integrated with, policies that establish proper levels of spending for services that Medicare beneficiaries should be receiving.

The complexities of these interdependent policies that would improve spending can be mastered only with a concerted effort by public agencies. The private insurance industry has no capability to create and apply the essential policies that would transform our health care delivery system into the efficient, affordable system that we desperately need.

MedPAC, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, currently provides advice to Congress on proposals to improve spending policies in the Medicare program. Congress is free to reject that advice and often does, more for political reasons than for reasons based on sound policy.

The health care reform proposal before Congress includes provisions to reduce the often perverse politics of Medicare financing by creating a commission, sometimes referred to as MedPAC-on-steroids, with much greater power to enforce its recommendations on spending.

The problem with the proposal is that the recommendations would be limited to the Medicare program alone. Unless the revisions applied to the other five-sixths of our population, it would be difficult to establish policies that would improve the overall use of health care services. Although reform of our financing system is essential, we may not get very far if we don’t have policies that would improve the structure of the health care delivery system.

We really do need an improved Medicare for all. We need to jettison the wasteful, ineffectual private insurers and get on with reform that will use our health care dollars to pay for an efficient health care system that serves all of us well.

By Danielle Alexander, M.Sc

With Congress advancing their health reform bills and the President’s vow to improve our health care crisis, I wish I could be hopeful and encouraged. But I’m neither. Instead, I’m dismayed. And listening to my fellow classmates, I’m not alone.

A little over a month ago I stood with 50 other medical students, faculty, and community members in front of Albany Medical College to remember the 45,000 Americans who die each year because they lacked health insurance.

The vigil was called, “Treat! Don’t Trick”, because we stood to ask Congress for reform that will help us treat our future patients, not fool us with hyperbole. I was moved to be a part of the vigil because I am appalled that deaths due to lack of health insurance has more than doubled since 2003.

Ryan McIntyre explained that he wished we could meet to celebrate; however there is not much to celebrate. He is a third year medical student and President of Physicians for a National Health Program student chapter.

“Obama is quoted as saying that if he could start from scratch he would support a single payer system,” Ryan said. “However, instead of starting from there, he started from a compromised position. What if Hippocrates started with a compromised position when he outlined the Hippocratic Oath?”

“For-profit, private insurance has not worked to control costs and cover everyone, and it will not work,” Megan Ash, a first year medical student, told us. “Improved and expanded Medicare for all is the best solution.”

“Health reform is the civil rights movement of our time,” Naazia Husein announced. She is a second year medical student and Co-President of the club Student Perspectives in Advocacy. “A single payer system is not a dream,” Naazia added, “it’s a demand.”

Reverend Harlan E. Ratmeyer, a pastoral care-giver at Albany Medical Center, explained: “The elite group is in the [healthcare coverage] pool, everyone else out of the pool. From the perspective of justice, and the spiritual, economical perspective, we should all be in the pool.”

Other vigil participants spontaneously began telling their stories too. John Wax, a first year medical student talked about how his father, self-employed, only received treatment for his herniated disc because he was a Vietnam Veteran and could get health insurance through the VA.

James Kelley, a first year medical student, shared that his mother was a nurse for 10 years providing health care in a women’s shelter. But when she needed to use her health insurance, she needed to hire an attorney in order to battle insurance claim denials.

The reforms touted on Capitol Hill will not solve these problems. Not even close.

Millions of Americans will still be without health insurance, private insurance companies will continue to deny health care in order to satisfy their stock holders (yes, even if exclusion due to preexisting conditions are unlawful), rapidly increasing health care costs will not be contained and healthcare coverage will still be tied to employment. As future physicians, and from our own life experiences, my classmates and I see that these these are the very things that demand to be changed.

If President Obama wants to be the last president to take up health care reform, then he must reconsider expanding and improving Medicare to include everyone.

Danielle E. Alexander, Albany Medical College Class of 2013, belongs to the American Medical Student Association and Physicians for a National Health Program.

CBO report on premiums

Posted by on Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

An Analysis of Health Insurance Premiums Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Congressional Budget Office
November 30, 2009

The analysis looks separately at the effects on premiums for coverage purchased individually, coverage purchased by small employers, and coverage provided by large employers.

Nongroup Policies

Average premiums per policy in the nongroup market in 2016 would be roughly $5,800 for single policies and $15,200 for family policies under the proposal, compared with roughly $5,500 for single policies and $13,100 for family policies under current law.

The majority of nongroup enrollees (about 57 percent) would receive subsidies via the new insurance exchanges, and those subsidies, on average, would cover nearly two-thirds of the total premium, CBO and JCT estimate.

Employment-Based Coverage

By CBO and JCT’s estimate, the average premium per policy in the small group market would be in the vicinity of $7,800 for single policies and $19,200 for family policies under the proposal, compared with about $7,800 and $19,300 under current law. In the large group market, average premiums would be roughly $7,300 for single policies and $20,100 for family policies under the proposal, compared with about $7,400 and $20,300 under current law.

Those figures do not include the effects of the small business tax credit on the cost of purchasing insurance. A relatively small share (about 12 percent) of people with coverage in the small group market would benefit from that credit in 2016. For those people, the cost of insurance under the proposal would be about 8 percent to 11 percent lower, on average, compared with that cost under current law.

http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/107xx/doc10781/11-30-Premiums.pdf

For most individuals and families, the Senate health care reform bill will have very little impact on the premiums to be paid for health plans. There are three important exceptions:

* Premiums in the individual market will increase significantly because the plans will be required to provide an actuarial value of 60 percent, higher than the average value in the current individual market.

* About 57 percent of individuals eligible for coverage in the exchange will receive subsidies which will more than offset the premium increases. Note that most individuals are not eligible for coverage in the exchange and would not receive these subsidies.

* Although there will be little change in premiums for small group plans, about 12 percent of people in the small group market will benefit from a small business tax credit designed to encourage small business owners to offer coverage to their employees.

The really bad news in this report is that, on average, premiums for group plans will continue to increase at the same intolerable rates that they would have if we did nothing. This CBO analysis demonstrates that, in 2016, the family premium alone for employer-sponsored coverage, not including deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, would be over $20,000 for a large group plan, whether or not the proposed legislation is enacted. That is quite a hit for a hard-working family with a $60,000 income.

The only hope for premium relief is for innovative insurance products that would reduce costs for those who don’t need health care, but would increase even more the costs for those who do. This demonstrates why focusing on premium relief has been a misguided endeavor. We have been diverted from the the much more important goal of relieving the financial burden of those who actually need health care.

We can achieve that goal by improving Medicare, funding it equitably, and using its monopsonistic powers to provide us with greater value in our health care purchasing. Had we done that when the Clintons were proposing their flawed model of reform, our national health expenditures would be about 20 percent less than they currently are.

It’s tragic that we would be starting from an inflated baseline, but we can still achieve that level of efficiency in the future if we dumped the highly flawed proposal before Congress and adopted the much more humane system of an improved Medicare for all.

Aetna to dump 600,000 members

Posted by on Monday, Nov 30, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Aetna prepares for loss of 600,000 members as it raises 2010 prices

By Emily Berry
American Medical News
November 30, 2009

Back when it was the largest private health plan in the country, Aetna downsized its membership by millions but boosted profits during an overhaul of its business several years ago.

Now it looks to be making a similar — but smaller — move with a planned price increase for many of its customers in 2010.

The company figures it will lose between 600,000 and 650,000 members next year because of the price hikes.

In a conference call with investment analysts to discuss the company’s third-quarter earnings, Chair and CEO Ron Williams told analysts, “The pricing we put in place for 2009 turned out to not really be what we needed to achieve the results and margins that we had historically been delivering.”

Aetna President Mark Bertolini laid out how the company planned to raise prices to improve the company’s profit margin. He said the firm had “implemented a combination of underwriting enhancements, pricing actions and plan design changes, intended to ensure that each customer is priced to an appropriate margin.”

Laying out specific expected membership losses is “pretty candid,” said David Gibbs, a retired health insurance industry consultant from San Luis Obispo, Calif. He worked for and consulted with health insurers, including Aetna, for 25 years.

He said Aetna’s decision comes from a system that encourages insurers to drive away sicker members — a strategy not unique to one insurer. “They’re running a business, and their obligation is a very singular one: to increase shareholder profits.”

Gibbs said simply raising prices probably would not get Aetna what it wants. That actually tends to result in sick people who are more “desperate” for coverage to keep it, and healthier groups to drop it. Instead, Aetna might change benefit designs, scaling back prescription drug coverage, for example, which sicker populations tend to value but healthier ones don’t notice as much.

http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2009/11/30/bisb1130.htm

This act by Aetna indicates the level of sincerity the insurance industry has in its alleged new effort to cooperate in ensuring that everyone has the health care coverage that they need. Aetna is redesigning and repricing its products in order to dump over 600,000 of its less profitable members. They need to be sure that “each customer is priced to an appropriate margin.” And, above all, they owe it to their shareholders “to drive away sicker members.”

But that’s one of the ways that markets work – improve profits by cutting losses. We keep hearing that markets improve quality while reducing costs, yet in a bit of irony, for those healthier populations that remain with the Aetna, the insurer is reducing quality through product redesign, and increasing costs through higher premiums.

Once Aetna dumps these members, what private insurer is going to jump in to capture this higher cost population? None you say? And under reform? The higher cost individuals buy into the weak public option driving premiums up through adverse selection to even more unaffordable levels?

Try to imagine Medicare dumping over 600,000 patients because they need more medical care. That is unthinkable and would be reprehensible in a public social insurance program such as Medicare. Yet for the private insurance industry, it’s business as usual. And President Obama and Congress want to keep these marketeers in charge? Talk about reprehensible!

Ignagni calls for lawmakers (not insurers) to control costs

Posted by on Friday, Nov 27, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

White House says health-care bills contain cost-cutting remedies

By Shailagh Murray
The Washington Post
November 26, 2009

Critics of the Democratic bills point to cost control as a chief deficiency. Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said the Senate bill includes only “pilot programs and timid steps” to reform the health-care delivery system, “given the scope of the cost challenge the nation faces.”

Unless lawmakers institute changes across the entire system, Ignagni said in a statement Wednesday, “Health costs will continue to weigh down the economy and place a crushing burden on employers and families.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/25/AR2009112503474.html

AHIP president Karen Ignagni says that unless lawmakers institute changes across the entire system, health care costs will continue to weigh down the economy, placing a crushing burden on employers and families. There could not be a more explicit admission that the private insurance industry is not and never has been capable of controlling our very high health care costs. Yet their administrative excesses along with the administrative burden they place on the delivery system are major sources of waste in our health care system.

We need everyone covered, and we need costs controlled in a system designed to provide us greater value. Neither will occur under the proposal before Congress. Although the private insurance industry can’t do it, an improved Medicare program would be designed specifically to accomplish those goals, and at a much lower administrative cost.

Karen Ignagni says that the lawmakers must institute the necessary changes across the entire system (because the insurers can’t). Let’s join her in demanding that Congress take the actions necessary, and then thank her for her efforts, as we dismiss her superfluous industry from any further obligations to manage our health care dollars.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Posted by on Friday, Nov 27, 2009

In the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, two weavers promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes invisible to those unfit for their positions or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, they all pretend they see the new finery, fearing exposure as the incompetents that they are. It takes a child to cry out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

As the Democratic Party races to claim a “health insurance reform” victory before the Christmas recess, I am reminded of this cautionary tale.

In place of the invisible clothes, we have the invisible reforms. In place of the weavers, we have the lobbyists. In place of the loyal subjects, we have the members of the Progressive Caucus. And in place of the child, we have all the Single Payer Advocates.

Please, President Obama, DON’T be that Emperor.

Dr. Paris is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program

Three Little Pigs: The Compromise

Posted by on Wednesday, Nov 25, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

Big Bad Wolf: “… and I’ll huff and I’ll puff… ”

Pig with the feasible compromise: “Oops!”

By Clay Bennett
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2009/nov/19/compromise/?opinioncartoons

Jonathan Gruber on affordability

Posted by on Tuesday, Nov 24, 2009

This entry is from Dr. McCanne's Quote of the Day, a daily health policy update on the single-payer health care reform movement. The QotD is archived on PNHP's website.

For Public, Affordability A Key Issue In Health Bill

By Julie Rovner
NPR
November 24, 2009

Lawmakers debating health care on Capitol Hill have spent months worrying about the potential cost. But mostly it’s been the total cost of the bill, not how much individual families who could soon be required to buy insurance for the first time might have to pay.

That could be a costly miscalculation, says health economist Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Let’s put it this way: It is 10 times as important as the public option and has received one one-hundredth of the coverage,” he says.

Gruber says economists have different ways of defining exactly what is and is not affordable for people. One way is by looking at disposable income, or whether people have money left over after paying for other necessities. “We think no one should have to go without food or shelter to have health insurance,” he says.

Another test is whether people would buy something voluntarily. “And if they would then clearly it’s affordable,” Gruber says.

But there’s also a third test — and it’s that affordability is in the eye of the beholder. And for a lot of beholders in the real world, health insurance costs are quickly becoming unaffordable.

(Under the proposed legislation) no family would have to spend more than 10 percent of its income on health insurance premiums; poor families wouldn’t have to spend more than 2 percent on premiums.

But premiums are only the start of what people spend on health insurance. There are also deductibles, copayments and other out-of-pocket costs. And Gruber says that when it comes to that sort of spending, the House bill is far more generous than the Senate bill.

For example, someone making two times the poverty level, or about $22,000 a year, in the House bill would get “something like a $500 deductible plan,” he says. “On the other hand in that same range in the Senate … now we’re talking a $2,500 deductible plan.”

Gruber says he’s a “big believer” in the concept that people should pay more for their health care so they’ll know what it really costs and have an incentive to save money. “I’m a believer in consumer skin in the game,” he says. “But a $2,500 deductible is a lot to ask for someone making $22,000 a year.”

And it brings Gruber to the ultimate test of affordability, which he says is a political test — “which is, do people revolt if you say, ‘I’m going to mandate you to pay this much’?”

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120723411

And…

A Milestone in the Health Care Journey
By Ronald Brownstein
The Atlantic
November 21, 2009

When I reached Jonathan Gruber on Thursday, he was working his way, page by laborious page, through the mammoth health care bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had unveiled just a few hours earlier. Gruber is a leading health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulted by politicians in both parties. He was one of almost two dozen top economists who sent President Obama a letter earlier this month insisting that reform won’t succeed unless it “bends the curve” in the long-term growth of health care costs. And, on that front, Gruber likes what he sees in the Reid proposal. Actually he likes it a lot.

“I’m sort of a known skeptic on this stuff,” Gruber told me. “My summary is it’s really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can’t think of a thing to try that they didn’t try. They really make the best effort anyone has ever made. Everything is in here….I can’t think of anything I’d do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn’t have done better than they are doing.”

http://politics.theatlantic.com/2009/11/a_milestone_in_the_health_care_journey.php

Regular readers of these messages are no doubt saturated with the concerns expressed about affordability of health care for individuals and families. For those who have or will have health care needs, even with subsidies, the premiums, deductibles, other cost sharing, out-of-network costs, and the costs of services that are not a benefit of the plans will be unaffordable for all but the relatively wealthy.

Today’s message is significant because MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the most influential proponents of the current legislation, also understands that the issue of affordability has not received the attention it deserves. As he points out, a $2,500 deductible is a lot to ask of an individual making $22,000 a year. He wants them to have “skin in the game,” but even he understands that you can’t ask for their entire hide.

So how would he suggest that we reduce out-of-pocket costs so that health care is affordable? It appears that he would use the measures in the Senate bill to bend the cost curve so excessive costs allegedly aren’t passed on to patients. It seems to matter little to him that the CBO was unable to project a bend in the curve when it did its analysis.

Of course, Gruber is also an advocate of “let’s pass this bill now and then we can fix it later on” – a tacit acknowledgment that affordability will remain a crucial issue.

Gruber says that he can’t think of anything more to do that isn’t in the Senate bill. But you readers know better. We need to dump this plan and immediately go to work on one that will make health care affordable for everyone – an equitably-financed, single payer, improved Medicare for all. Do really we need to wait for Gruber’s ultimate test for affordability – a revolt?

About this blog

Physicians for a National Health Program's blog serves to facilitate communication among physicians and the public. The views presented on this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of PNHP.

News from activists

PNHP Chapters and Activists are invited to post news of their recent speaking engagements, events, Congressional visits and other activities on PNHP’s blog in the “News from Activists” section.