Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Health Care Debate V

Health Care Debate V.

Well, lets go over the facts, as I can find them.

  1. Health care in the USA is troubled. 60% of all bankruptcies are due to medical debt. America pays more per capita GDP for it’s gov-care (which covers 1/3 the population and ½ the cost of all medical bills) then countries with universal gov-care for 100% of the population. By the same measure, the US also has the highest private health care expenses. Between the two, US citizens, on average pay over two times more than citizens of other nations with comparable qualities of life. Worse still, by almost any measure, the US health care system is at best, only competitive and at worst, behind other nations in over all citizen health.

  2. Despite the objectively verifiable low value of health care in the US (That is to say, the price adjusted for exchange rate and local GDP is far higher then the same effectivity of care in other nations.) The producer’s price isn’t high enough to change consumer behavior. This is proven by the fact 33% of all mortality is preventable through life style change. (18% and 15% to tobacco and obesity/inactivity respectively). Preventable care expenses are over half the total cost of health care.

  3. Health care is a system or network. Consisting of four major actors. The health care provider, the health care consumer, the health care insurer, and the government that regulates them. Change must be network-wide to improve the situation. Single actor change would only displace expenses onto the other actor/s.

  4. Health insurance premiums are expensive primarily because health care is expensive. In order of dominance, the costs of health care seem to be…

    (A) Over-care. All actions have risk, including inaction. The increase is procedures does not increase in expense proportionally, but exponentially, because with each action the provider takes, the person is exposed to new risks, which will require new corrective action, which will create more risk, in a cycle. The number one cause of over-care is fear of litigation.

    (B.)Health care provider labor cost, primarily nurses.

    (C.)Government payments cover only 85% of the cost of care. (Resulting in private costumers subsidizing the hospitals costs of gov-care patients in addition to the payroll income tax payments which paid the first 85% of the expenses.)


    (E.)The requirement for all hospitals to provide free emergency room care to anyone who needs it.

  5. Regarding insurance, in other industries, insurance, by organizational ability and economy of scale is a powerful force towards efficiency. This is not happening in the health care field. Health insurance have several points of note:

    (A.)Other then the cost of claims, the primary cause of high premiums is deductibles which are proportionally low in comparison to the claim cost.

    (B.)Insurance companies are not allowed to price premiums based on risk but must instead at least in part, price premiums based on government mandate.

    (C.)Insurance companies have restrictions placed on their business model that other similar industries don’t have.

    (D.)Insurance companies are not allowed to enter area markets based on market forces, but on government mandate.

So, whats the solution? 4A: Tort reform. 4B: Replace the universal state boards with industry designed tests based on specialization. 4C: Creation of single gov-care agency instead multiple competing ones. 4D The Canadian gov-care system has about half the administrative cost of the US system. Utilization of “best practice” is in order. 4E: Congressional moratorium of this unconstitutional unfunded mandate. 5A. Creation of tax sheltered savings accounts for funds earmarked for deductibles. 5B, 5C, 5D: The deregulation of prices and charges within the insurance industry. The new price-controlled-by-market insurance companies will be able to charge cost effectively rates for self inflicted illness, solving 2.

This is the last word on health care reform. Anything less then this isn’t reform.  Anything more is government reform with a focus on health care.

September 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Health Care Debate IV

The purpose of market is to provide a place for the producer and consumer to form voluntary contracts. The market has no intrinsic morals and only one rule: the best deal. The producer makes supply, the consumer makes demand. Between them, and the competition of various producers to provide for various consumers, this constant desire for the best deal drives price ever downward. It rewards the most efficient producer and the most efficient consumer alike. It’s almost a kind of magic.

Market failure doesn’t refer to a total break down of the buying and selling but a break down of the magic, of the automatic best deal for everyone. It’s not discrete point, but direction the market can go. The opposite direction leads to the perfect market. It too is not a destination but a direction, the ideal by which markets are judged.

A perfect market consists of a few key principals, describing the market as a game it looks like this: (1.) Rationality of all players in the game. (2.) No hidden costs to any move. (3.) Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior. (4.) something all the players want to play with [demand] (5.) Freedom to play or not play at any point (6.) No barriers to entering or leaving the game (7.) No barriers to any player about information on any other player.

How does the medical industry fail these criteria?

Rationality of all players in the game

(1.)Well, first of all, the medical consumers are highly irrational. Short term fun at the expense of long term health is not rational, yet 80% of heat disease alone is preventable. Throw in smoking, obesity, diabetes, etc, and the single greatest killer is short sightedness. In a perfect world, doctors would serve as check on this irrationality, but the fact is, doctors are over-treating (which gets people killed) because of their fear of litigation.  The consumer is crazy and so is the producer.

No hidden costs to any move

(2.)The whole field is full of hidden costs. From regulations you never heard of to taxes you can’t imagine, the medical field is a minefield of hidden costs.

Enough players that no single one can steer the game by their behavior

(3.) Well, about half of the cost is payed for by one player (gov-care), and up to 70% of the remaining half is payed for by one company per area.  Normally, this would be called oligopoly, but honestly, its worse than that.  Because the first half is the government, its more like a oligopoly on the second half and monopoly on the first.  Under normal circumstances, even if a player owns 50% of the total market, that player can rarely take away your organization’s legal right to exist, or place members of your organization under arrest. The government has what is known as a monopoly on force. Monopoly represents a market distortion. Force, on the other hand, represents the nonexistence of market.  The foundation of market is people forming contracts of their free will, ie, without threat of force.

Something all the players want to play with [demand]

(4.) Demand, we’ve got. Sort of. The fact is, while doctors may not be the paragons of reason we hope, the producer side (as is typical in other industries) is better at being rational then the consumer side. If nothing else, it’s better organized. The consumer demand is health, not care. But doctors have no economic incentive to pursue health. They have need to produce care. So there is break down between the needs of the consumer and the ability of the producer to meet that need. Note, I am not saying there is a conspiracy by doctors to keep people sick. Doctors are like most people: there’s a few true saints, a few evil bastards, and lot of pretty ethical folk.  But the fact is, we must relay on doctors’ moral incentive and not their economic incentive to provide us with health. Systems work better when the two incentives are the same.

Freedom to play or not play at any point

(5.) This one absolutely does not apply. Playing in this case means the freedom to form or not form voluntary contracts. If the consumer doesn’t enter the market he suffers or dies. At the same time, if the producers do not enter the market many suffer or die. Further, hospitals must provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.  On the insurance side, insurers must provide insurance to at a loss to certain high risk people. They must by law.

No barriers to entering or leaving the game

(6.) Well, the barriers to entering the game are enormous. Lets say we want to start a tiny private practice, with very limited services. First, the price of becoming a MD is between $175K and $200K. Then, the first year cost for 1600 square foot commercial space, a receptionist and tech who makes no benefits is about $250K­. So, minimum startup cost is right around half a million dollars. Nor can hospitals simply exit the market, they provide a community service and without them people will suffer and die. Insurance is the most heavily regulated industry in the US, so even if cash on hand was not a problem the regulations would be, but in any case, and insurance company must have the cash on hand to pay out all claims if they were all called at once. The startup costs for an insurance company are in the tens of millions.

No barriers to any player about information on any other player

(7.) This is the worst. Insurance companies use hundred page contracts written legalese on purpose, to hide the information the consumer needs to know. At the same time, insurance fraud is a huge expense, because people aren’t honest with the companies either. If people are totally honest with doctors, their premium could go up. Conversely, if doctors are honest about risks with patients, the patients will simply go to another doctor who paints a rosier picture.  Again, the moral incentive is diametrically opposed to the economic one.

All in all, it’s a wonder health care is as cheap as it is. Again, I’ve hit over 1000 words, so I will post my solution(?) later. Thanks for reading all, feel free to weigh in on any of this.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Government, Pharmacology, Politics, Religion, Science, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Health Care Debate II

Ok, so last blog, I looked at the insurance companies.  Basically, there is large room for improvement, but I didn’t find the huge smoking gun of “THE WHOLE THING SUCKS BECAUSE OF THE INSURANCE COMPANIES” I thought I would.  In fact, ultimately, premiums are high because hospital care (which premiums insure) are high.

A hospital is a business, even when it is a non-profit.  If cash out exceeds cash in, like all other businesses, it fails.   Right now, hospital costs are higher then they have ever been, so we would think that hospitals are making money hand over fist.  Actually, not at all.

Over the last 10 years the average profit margin (the amount of economic surplus) has increased. It’s gone from (ready for this)… 4.9 to 5.2%.  An oft quoted stat is that many of the most profitable hospitals are making a 20.1% profit margin.  It’s true.  Some of the most profitable hospitals are putting a 20% mark up on certain procedures.  It’s to cover the 15% loss they take on the other ones, leaving an end of the year balance of…5%.

Why are they taking a 15% loss?  Well, because Medicare, Medicaid, SCHPs, (all the gov-care) doesn’t pay the full cost.  Note, this isn’t saying gov-care doesn’t pay the full charge.  Think of it this way. A procedure costs the hospital $100.  They bill $120 for a twenty percent markup.  Private insurance pays $120.  Gov-care pays whatever it can afford, usually around $85.  A 15% loss means 15% below cost, but about 43% below the price.

The reason for this is the program is never given enough money to pay all the expenses it incurs.  If the program was supposed to pay for 100 procedures at $1 each, and there are 140 procedures, then all the hospitals get $0.71 instead of a dollar.

Further, remember that gov-care is only about 1/3 of the number of patients, 2/3rds are private insurance, so how does the hospital not make a killing, taking 15% loss on 1/3 and getting 20% gain on 2/3rds?  Because the 1/3 of people on gov-care are the most expensive patients.  Despite the fact they make up only 33% of the hospital population, they make up 50% of the expenses.

Hospitals can refuse gov-care patients so why don’t they? If taking a patient on medicare meant you were going to loss 15% of the cost of care, why would hospitals take them in?  Because of the Emergency Medical Treatment Act of 1986, which means, “regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay” any patient who needs emergency care must receive it.

Hospitals loss on average, about $84 per emergency room patient.  Emergency rooms account for about 20% of the total cost of running a hospital.  So, why have one? Because 1/7 patients who visits the ER will have a highly profitable inpatient transfer.  The best way hospitals can get the profitable 2/3rds of insurance payers into inpatient surgery is through the ER doors.

What about people who don’t have insurance, and don’t qualify for gov-care and simply refuse to pay? They are very small part of hospital losses, about 3% on average.

So if, 97% of the hospital customers are paying, and half the cost is at a 15% loss, and half is at 20% profit, that doesn’t really explain why health care is so expensive.  I mean, yes all the responsible people are effectively paying a 20% sales tax to the hospital to cover the portion of socialized medicine that the their income tax didn’t pay.  But, 20% sales tax does not 200% overcharging make. (The cost US health care exceeds the cost of better health in many other industrialized democracies.) So what gives?

The most expensive thing in the hospital is labor.  If we are serious about reducing the cost of health care, we have two very basic options. One is make labor cheaper, the other is use less of it.

What about cheaper labor? The most expensive section of hospital is ICU and 80% of the cost of ICU is labor.  ICU nurses make about 46k a year.   I’ve often mentioned France in this study.  Nurses in France make half of what American ones do, and health care is cheaper.

As to reducing the number of hours nurses have to spend with patients, let me rip this long section from this article.

For example, if you are a Medicare recipient and you have a heart attack in a region where doctors practice less aggressive care, like Salt Lake City, your care will cost Medicare about $23,500 over the course of a year. But if you have your heart attack in a place like Los Angeles, the bill will be closer to $30,000.

The wide gulf in spending between the two cities is not because of different prices. Sure, everything costs a bit more in Los Angeles, including nurses’ salaries and the laundering of hospital linens, but not enough to account for the extra amount Medicare pays for a heart attack. The reason the same patient’s care costs more there than in Salt Lake City is that doctors and hospitals in Los Angeles tend to give their patients more tests, procedures, and surgeries, and their patients tend to spend more days in the hospital.

But here’s the important part. All that extra care in L.A. doesn’t lead to better outcomes. As it turns out, heart attack patients who receive the most care actually die at slightly higher rates than those who receive less care.

So, um, why are we doing this to our selves? Again, same article:

Why? Because doctors believe patients will be less likely to go to a lawyer if they think the doctor did everything possible—even when doing so doesn’t help the patient or causes harm…

The article puts forward the idea 50% of medical procedures are basically done to make people feel better rather than be better.  That is to say, nearly half of all procedures done have no backing in reality which suggest they are necessary.  At least one large portion of the problem is that lack of skepticism and respect for the scientific method exhibited by American medical consumers.

Tune in next time, when I tie the this blog and the last one together to create a cohesive solution.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Pharmacology, Politics, Science, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Health Care debate.

Health care as I see it.

I started this blog just writing down as many facts as I could about the health care system, trying to make sense of it all. The first assumption is that health insurance is the right way to pay for health care, and this leads to two problems. One, that insurance is too expensive, and two since it’s so expensive, to few people have it.

Well, I’ll begin by saying there could be serious improvement to health insurance. First off, insurance is a method of sharing risk. Everybody pays a foreseeable and affordable loss (premium) to the company, who in exchange pays unforeseeable and un-affordable loss affecting a small minority of policy holders.

I’m not sure insurance is a totally appropriate method of paying for health care in this day and age for three reasons. One, modern diagnostics, predictive methods, and techniques mean the unfordable loss is no longer unforeseeable. Two, the big three killers: hypertension, smoking, and high cholesterol, are all preventable and highly dependent upon lifestyle choices. Again, this does not meet the criterion “unforeseeable”. In fact, we could even say high treatment costs for chronic illness are so foreseeable as to be statistically unavoidable. Three, the rate of premium depends upon how expensive the policy holders un-affordable loss is to the company, and the number of policy holders who need it. In an age of 32% obesity rates (obesity exacerbates almost every chronic health condition.) that are likely to be approaching 40% in the next ten years, health care expenses don’t meet the final criterion of only a small minority experiencing an un-affordable loss.

Is insurance too expensive? Probably. Everything I mentioned above can only go one place: premium increases. Are insurance companies pushing the boundaries of ethical behavior? Probably. Is that failure of the insurance companies? Well, not exactly. People and groups have the ethics they can afford. The average health care insurance company runs a 5.5% profit margin. In a free market economy you get what you pay for. The higher the premium the better the service. The lower the premium the worse the service.

The answer to improving the insurance industry is pretty simple. Consumers need better info, with less dead weight losses to changing companies. The insurance companies need to write their contracts at a 6th grade level (Average US reading comprehension), and switching insurance providers needs to be a single sheet of paper or a phone call. However, other then codes requiring simplicity, transparency, and interchangeable standards, the industry needs to be heavily deregulated. This encourages the sort of cut-throat capitalism that makes America a land of opportunity. Also, medical saving accounts are an option. Between private capital in medical savings accounts, credit union style insurance companies, and D-regged private insurers, competition would make companies leaner.

But ultimately, we are talking about companies fighting for tenths of a percent. The cost of premiums is decided by the frequency and cost of care. Insurance companies can profitably only reduce unnecessary visits. Visits which prevent costly claims increase profitability, so a huge reduction is frequency of care is unlikely. The real cost of health care rests not on insurance companies, but upon care providers.

This case is further born out by the fact that about 1/3 of the cost of health care in the US is paid for by the Medicaid, Medicare, SCHP, and VA government plans. If the problem of cost was one of insurance alone, one would expect that there would be a significant saving to socialized health care, but analysis of the cost of gov-care versus private care show no significant reduction in price for identical procedures. The additional 5% private insurers make as profit disappears into the significantly more expert administration of the private insurers, so gov-care is not 5% cheaper.

So insurance is just a middleman, the real cost in the health care providers. Why is American medicine so expense? Supply and demand says, consumers demand will use up the supply, raising costs until producers can create more. The producers will make so much it will lower the price. The tension of supply and demand drives the price down to market equilibrium, where the consumer is paying as little as he can, and the producer is charging as much as he can. That’s the miracle of free market economy. It pushes the price to where it the lowest possible, ensuring the greatest number have access to the good. Yet in the US 100 million people are on some kind of gov-care. That’s a third of the population!

Every body needs health care, the demand is universal, so it should be decreasing supply, increasing the price, raising the incentive to enter the field which would result in increased competition. This competition would result in innovations which would increase the supply and lower the cost. For some reason, this isn’t happening. In fact, the American medical system is running so badly, that planned economies are achieving greater results with less spending, both in raw dollars and as portion of GDP. The US spends more on gov-care (Medicaid, Medicare, SCHP, VAB, etc.) than countries with fully socialized health care spend on it, to get lower rates of health for a 1/3 the per capital population. Then the 60% of Americans pay again! American private health care costs more then any other industrialized nation. France in particular stands out (!) with the average American paying over 200% more for private health care, and 75% more for gov-care, while having maintaining statistically worse health.

When planned economies are running better then capitalism, we know something is rotten in Denmark.  I’ll address what later.

August 23, 2009 Posted by | Government, Pharmacology, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments