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  • Medicare Reform Debate: What Really Works in Health Care Competition

    Recently, economist Paul Krugman derided the premium support plan to reform Medicare:

    Still, wouldn’t private insurers reduce costs through the magic of the marketplace? No. All, and I mean all, the evidence says that public systems like Medicare and Medicaid, which have less bureaucracy than private insurers (if you can’t believe this, you’ve never had to deal with an insurance company) and greater bargaining power, are better than the private sector at controlling costs.

    Of course, Medicare has been shown to be “efficient” enough to lose more money to fraud than private insurance. Peter Suderman of Reason magazine recently pointed out a number of studies suggesting that the private sector can effectively control costs in health care. One notable study recognizes that private plans do have the potential to control costs better than the government, as illustrated by Medicare Advantage’s success in constraining costs compared to traditional Medicare.

    Suderman only scratches the surface. Consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) allow for the use of tax-free health savings accounts (HSAs) to allow people to control health care dollars directly, while still having protection against catastrophic illnesses. HSAs can be effective at reducing costs, as illustrated by Governor Mitch Daniels’s (R) recent consumer-driven reforms in Indiana as well as a recent academic study published in Health Services Research.

    A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that HSA users visit emergency rooms less frequently than users of more traditional plans. This reduction in use is attributable to the fact that HSAs offer patients greater financial incentives to take care of their health, as well as their health care costs.

    Nonetheless, critics fear that consumer-driven plans will attract healthy, low-risk enrollees, and traditional plans will subsequently incur a greater concentration of more chronically ill patients. As a result, many fear that the chronically ill may subsequently incur higher costs. Proper risk adjustment mechanisms, however, mitigate this effect.

    Others argue that health insurance can’t operate like a traditional market. However, it has long been understood that patients do make health care decisions in a manner similar to other purchasing decisions. For example, a 1994 study found that consumers considered a number of factors—including hospitalization coverage, choice of doctors, policy premiums, and dental coverage—in purchasing insurance.

    So, if health care can operate like a traditional market, why hasn’t the market reduced costs all around? The answer is that law and regulation have traditionally undercut the ability of health insurance to operate like a traditional market in controlling costs.

    Consumers are typically restricted in purchasing insurance by a restrictive tax policy, as well as by federal law governing insurance markets, including restrictions on people purchasing coverage in a national market like they buy other goods and services. And within states, consumers must cope with costly and often unnecessary regulations and mandates on their insurance coverage. A study published last year suggests that allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines could reduce the number of uninsured by as many as 12.5 million.

    So, there is indeed a growing body of academic evidence that competition can help reduce health care costs. Those seriously engaged in public policy should not ignore this literature. Anyone interested in an honest discussion of the issue can start by reading Martin Gaynor and Robert Town’s comprehensive review.

    Posted in Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Medicare Reform Debate: What Really Works in Health Care Competition

    1. Anonymous says:

      This article is very accurate in it's description of why the private sector hasn't succeeded. Private sector would do better with less state and federal regulations as they only add to the increasing coverage and actuarial potential cost, and consumer driven plans are working (I'll come back to this). But let me simplify things and explain it clearer. People want to point at health insurers as the problem for rising cost because they have the least political influence in the democratic party compared to prescription drug companies, lawyers (who don't want to see tort reform), hospitals and doctors, but the fact remains reform was needed across the board to all segments to be effective. Home or auto insurers aren't castrated when national disasters or auto accidents increase causing your rates to go, because they have to compete so keeping their premiums low is a necessity and dipping into their reserves is needed during high claim (flood or hail season) periods. Then again this leads to another factor no one discusses about HC, yes obesity has risen and people don't take care of themselves, but this isn't that new, we just have more drugs for them now and people expect to be fixed by surgeries and the quick solution, not taking action to become healthier themselves… Higher utilization! And newer technology everyday, which is great but that new machine cost more money for the hospital which thus drives up their cost and causes to your premiums to go up. I read somewhere that the US creates 95% of all the new drugs in the world, however Canada and the UK controls the cost they purchase these drugs at from the drug companies, while we end up paying two to more likely, three times as much in the states for the drugs, ever wonder we it's cheaper in Canada to buy your drugs? We need to stop allowing these drug companies from ripping us off and having record profits every year (20%, while insurers are reporting 2 to 4%). In fact, why does a drug company need to advertise? I should be able to ask my doctor what I need, not listen to a commercial. This is much longer than I intended so I won't really get back to the Consumer Driven Plan topic but just to say this, if we all went to consumer driven plans we could do away with the need for health insurance to be involved with your primary care doctors and even specialists, which would cut their cost since insurance billing and record keeping costs way too much (then we might start seeing prices for services on their windows, that would be the day). I truly hope there is reform but the current isn't going to do anything but fail, as I believe they want, so they can have a single payer system and increase government jobs, not private sector. 29 year old, 5th year insurance Broker from KC.

    2. Bobbie says:

      Agree! What really works in health care competition is getting government control out!

    3. johnculp101 says:

      I suppose they also have offers for this kind of dental coverage, such as neuromuscular dentistry. Because I bet that not all dentists can perform what this requires.

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