Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Economic Issues, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Medicaid, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Medical Practice Models, Medicare, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Price Tansparency, Quality, Uncategorized

G. Keith Smith, M.D. — Health “Coverage” as a Distraction


I think it is good to be alert to any discussions that are “downstream of a flawed premise.” Let me explain.

When I hear, for instance, that the “flat tax” is preferable to the current income tax, I think to myself that this is a discussion of the knife versus the axe, a conversation far downstream of one addressing government spending or the very legitimacy of denying someone their earnings. After all, victims don’t generally care what the mugger does with their money. They just resent being mugged and no discussion about whether the mugger used a knife or a gun will likely provide any solace.

Similarly, I would argue that arguing for everyone to have health “coverage” is far downstream of the more original problem: the cost of healthcare. To provide “coverage” for everyone in the current climate of gross overcharging primarily serves the interests of those who employ the “what can I get away with” method of medical pricing.

The fierce push back against true price transparency by the cronies in the medical industry makes more sense in this context, as price honesty denies them access to everyone’s blank checkbook as the health cronies are well aware.

Supporters of government-guaranteed “coverage” object with the following arguments.

First, coverage is equated with healthcare. While millions of Canadians streaming across the border to secure their health needs could be used to refute the idea that coverage is synonymous with care, this disconnect has become more apparent in this country. Each passing day reveals Medicaid and Medicare “coverage” to be a “black mark,” an actual obstacle to obtaining care, as these government programs and their associated rationing through price controls and hassles are creating the lines the central planners intended. Physicians are either dropping out of these programs altogether or they are limiting their exposure to patients with this “coverage.”

Another objection points to the relief from financial devastation that having “coverage” represents. Keep in mind that not only are well over half of the bankruptcies in this country medically related, but almost three quarters of those filing for medical bankruptcy have insurance. This points powerfully to cost as the root cause of medical economic ills.

Acknowledging this is a slippery slope for the objector, however, for no economic system better provides for resource allocation than the market and the cronies and their government pals know this as well as anyone.

The market is the only source of price deflation with simultaneous improvement in quality. This powerful competitive mechanism has brought affordability to countless products and services in all industries and has begun to bring rationality to health care pricing as more physicians and facilities honestly post their prices for all to see.

Rather than focus on “coverage,” which allows the cronies to continue their financial feeding frenzy, we should remain unalterably focused on cost. The competition unleashed will result in a medical price deflation the likes of which will cause even the most skeptical objector to re-evaluate the role of “coverage” in the provision of payment for health care.

This is no prediction. This is exactly what is happening here in Oklahoma where so many health professionals have embraced the same market discipline every other industry must endure. The reasonable prices and high quality of care, have had such a wide appeal that Oklahoma City has evolved into a medical tourist destination for many patients far from here, while simultaneously bringing savings in the millions of dollars to those who actually pay for healthcare, locally.

This is my answer to another objection from those who claim the inapplicability of market competition to health care.  Whether the focus on “coverage” is a deliberate distraction by the crony propaganda machine or a well-meaning but misguided attempt to provide better access to care, we must keep our eyes on the “price transparency ball.” The Oklahoma market is already harshly judging those attempting to avoid this gaze and I believe this trend will continue as long as we identify, challenge and reject conclusions downstream of their flawed premises.

Posted in Access to healthcare, Consumer-Driven Health Care, Defined Contribution Benefit Plans, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Independent Physicians, Medical Costs, Medical Practice Models, Policy Issues, Tax Policy, third-party payments, Uncategorized

Who Pays for Your Healthcare Matters

By Robert Nelson

Zero co-pays. No co-insurance. No surprise medical bills! Considering the inflated prices we pay for healthcare, who could pass up that deal, right?

Are the new generation of value-based employer-sponsored Direct Contracting Health Plans, which often include Direct Primary Care, a great deal and more efficient use of our healthcare dollars? Absolutely yes!

real-health-care-expenditures-and-third-party-largerBut we can’t lose sight of the economic reality that individuals always pay the cost of benefits, either directly or indirectly.  And linking benefits to employment has been a colossal policy mistake and the genesis of job-lock and our 3rd-party payer system, which has been the source of runaway costs for 50 years. As the graph illustrates, insurance (3rd party payer) is now a near surrogate for total healthcare costs!

Don’t be fooled. Within the modern paradigm of healthcare financing, employers don’t pay for our healthcare. Our healthcare expense, no matter how it is structured, IS part of our compensation and a huge portion of of it.

images-223535545945618981307.jpgFACT: Every dollar of tax-favored benefits paid by our employer reduces our take-home pay.

The beauty of Direct Primary Care is the portability (no job lock) and affordability which can exist independent of the size or benefit package of the employer. But the foundation which aligns the incentives is based on the identity of the customer. This is why we have to be careful to match the buyer with the recipient of care whenever possible. To insert another 3rd party, even the employer, undermines the sovereignty of the patient and the independence of the physician.

The supply side of healthcare has served the wrong customers for far too long. DPC should not make that same fatal error by exchanging its essence for a pipeline of patients.

This linkage highlights the importance of policy decisions regarding use of HSA funds; the importance of allowing HSA dollars to pay premiums AND DPC fees can’t be overstated.

For DPC, and Direct Contracting at-large, to dig us out from under the boot of the 3rd party apparatus it must remain accessible to the sole proprietor, independent contractor and very small businesses that don’t have “health plans.” And moving to defined contribution plans and away from defined benefit plans will help get us there.

third-party-2Getting first dollar decisions in hands of consumers will also be deflationary and spur competition; and essential to the goal of eventual portability & ownership of benefits. To do otherwise, with too much focus on a new & improved generation of employer-sponsored healthcare plans, will lead us right back to where we started.

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), British National Health Service, Deductibles, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Employee Benefits, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Free-Market, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Individual Market, Individual ObamaCare Market, Insurance subsidies, Large group insurance market, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Medical Practice Models, Medicare, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Quality, Subsidies, Third-Party Free Practices, third-party payments, Uncategorized

Lies That Won’t Die: Health Insurance Costs and Healthcare – Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference—the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.  ~Frederic Bastiat

The results of the immediate/ intended effects (the seen) and the subsequent/ unintended effects (the unseen) of U.S. healthcare policy are clearly instantiated by examining the way we use, and misuse, health insurance.  

Despite the ostensibly good intentions to improve access by expanding coverage for various medical services, the “ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.”

Our insurance-based third-party payer protocols have pernicious and nefarious economic consequences on our healthcare system.  This manifests as rampant healthcare inflation catalyzed by the macro-economic market distortions of the 3rd party payer effect and perpetuated by the micro-economic price-obscuring distortions of the billing cycle.

As evidence for the negative consequence of misusing insurance as a pass-through system for virtually every healthcare expense, we can examine the employer-sponsored group market premiums. From 2007 – 2017 the average premium for family coverage increased by 55% and employee contribution rate as a share of premium cost increased by 74% over the same 10-year period; while median household income went up by only 3%.

To add financial injury to insult, the percentage of employees with an out-of-pocket maximum of greater than $3,000 doubled, going from 30% to 60% of employees.

“Eighty-one percent of covered workers have a general annual deductible for single coverage that must be met before most
services are paid for by the plan. Among covered workers with a general annual deductible, the average deductible amount for single coverage is $1,505
.  ~KFF.org

In the ACA individual market insurance exchanges, single coverage premiums (unsubsidized) increased by 62% and family coverage premiums increased by 75% just since the implementation of ObamaCare!

And between 2002 and 2016, medical costs for a family of four in an employer-sponsored PPO plan increased 180%! 

Given that household income has barely budged in real dollars since 2002, these increases are clearly not sustainable. By contrast, the auto insurance market (a real indemnity product) increased by only 17% from 2007 – 2016, while deductible offering ranges remained stable, averaging $500.

The refusal of some to recognize the valid comparatives between the health insurance market & the auto insurance market (ostensibly because healthcare is SO different) is not an argument suitable to justify the dysfunction and high costs of Healthcare; nor does it explain why health insurance premiums have become an unwelcome surrogate for total healthcare costs! The irony being that a competitive cash market for all things related to driving and keeping a car in working order, which are not paid for at all by insurance, is exactly why the auto insurance market is affordable and sustainable! Based on data from 2014, auto insurance accounts for about 15% of the cost of ownership of a nicer car for an average safe driver. Stated differently, the cost of insurance adds about 18% to the cost of ownership compared to not having insurance.

Health insurance, on the other hand, adds about 50% to the cost of healthcare compared to no having insurance. Now consider that cost ratio in light of the NIHCM 2012 study on the concentration of healthcare spending.

“… mean annual spending for the bottom half of distribution was just $236 per person, totaling only $36 billion for the entire group of more than 150 million people… 15% of the population had no spending whatsoever in the year.”

So in any given year, 150 million of us spend less than $300 per person on actual medical care. Even more striking is the statistical likelihood that roughly 15% of the population (nearly 50 million) will have no personal health expenditures in a given year (we have no reason to believe the year in question was an aberration)!

The flip side to this story – and one that is often used to justify the way we use health insurance – is that about 81% of the spending comes from 20% of the population, which holds largely true in almost any given year. But this is the rule for almost any market and is not unique to healthcare. Most of the cars or new homes or new roofs or refrigerators or new tires or new windshields are purchased by a small percentage of the population each year; but it is not by the same people every year.

This is precisely why insurance is necessary and valuable; but also precisely why insuring too many things that are more affordable in a cash market is a horrible financial strategy! Yet we continue to commit to paying for all the small stuff, plus the unpredictable catastrophes, with this expensive proposition we call health “insurance”!

So maybe should re-frame how we look at healthcare and ask…”What have we done TO healthcare to make it behave the way it does?”

Instead of blaming “market failure” – or any of the usual suspect villains – for the high costs & low quality of healthcare, maybe we need to re-frame how we view the provision of healthcare. And when it comes to blaming the “free-market”, how do you blame something that is wholly absent? Because almost NONE of the factors which define a normally functioning free market system (discoverable, actionable prices and outcomes data with competition based on price & quality) are operational in healthcare today.

Rather than market failure, a more productive and accurate way to view healthcare would be as a massive, systemic, well orchestrated pricing failure…brought to us almost exclusively by the central planners in Washington DC, And the perverse incentives that are baked into the system.

Dr. John Goodman, economist and healthcare policy expert, has
this to say
about the consequences of this [“pricing failure”].

“In every  profession outside medicine – law, accounting,
engineering, architecture, etc. – providers are able to repackage and reprice what they offer to the market…Doctors by contrast are slaves to a third-party payer system that has been shaped and molded by government.

Many of the problems begin with Medicare, which pays doctors today the
same way it paid in the last century – long before there were emails or
iPhones. Most private insurers and most employers pay the same way. State governments pile on. Sometimes they make consultations with patients by phone or by email or by Skype illegal. In most places, doctors can’t freely practice across state lines.” –
Dr. John C. Goodman

Collectively, these interventions add excessive costs of our healthcare system. It is important to remember that many of these cost over-runs are manifestations of the applied distortions, not intrinsic to healthcare itself.

One of most pernicious of these pricing failures can be traced to the bizarre way in which we utilize health insurance; which brings me to our featured “lie that won’t die”, and it goes like this…

“Health insurance is expensive because Healthcare is expensive.”

NOT!

But like all effective fallacies, it contains just enough truth on the surface and enough logical coherency to be believable. Let’s explore why this commonly held doctrine in healthcare circles is not only wrong, but counterproductive to useful healthcare reform.

Insurance should be the financial fireman that protects us from the consequences of catastrophic events.  But for insurance to work, these catastrophic events must be infrequent & unpredictable, thus spreading the risk of these infrequent events across a large population; so at any given time, only a few are affected.

When insurance becomes a funding source for the routine – the predictable – the affordable events, then we actually concentrate risk rather than spreading it! This model changes “insurance” into a perpetual payout fund, violating every tenet of insurance! And to compound the effect, the contractual obligations on both the demand side and supply side promote the incentive for everyone to utilize their health plan as often as possible.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to predict that the costs of sustaining such a model are never satisfied, always being squeezed by patients who are chasing the benefits and providers who chase the billing codes for reimbursement.

So health insurance is definitely the Fireman or “lifeguard” when we have a costly health crisis; but when it becomes an expensive medical maintenance plan, insurance also becomes the arsonist.

We have taken a tool designed to pay out rare higher-priced claims on unpredictable events, and turned it into an inflation-prone product whose design promotes an incentive for everyone to use it as often as possible. That makes about as much sense as trying to buy insurance for a car that is regularly used in a demolition derby.

Our third-party payer system has created a dependency paradox; the same funding method (health insurance) that contributes to runaway costs also causes us to be more dependent on it for access.

The result is a healthcare system that costs way more than the sum of its parts. This is why playing the blame game does not solve the problem. American doctors could take a 50% pay cut and we could eliminate the spend equal to all care during last 12 months of life and we would still spend more per capita than any other country. You can go down the list of culprits and repeat the calculations, which I’ve done, but the math doesn’t add up; it doesn’t reconcile.  

The introduction of DPC has deflated these cost escalations considerably.  In the individual market, data from several sources bears this out.  CovenantMD, a Direct Primary Care practice in Lancaster, PA illustrates the potential savings based on a typical family’s utilization.

They compared the total costs incurred using a Bronze ACA plan with $6K individual/$12K family deductibles without and with a DPC membership at CovenantMD.  Pairing a Bronze Plan with a DPC membership resulted in an out-of-pocket savings of $7,267, even after the cost of the membership was counted.  That is a 65% reduction in out-of-pocket costs!

Zenith Direct Care did a similar analysis for a typical family of five with an 80/20 plan with $3,000 deductible.  They compared annual costs for this scenario with a Zenith Direct Care membership plus a Health Cost-share Plan (health-sharing member).  Estimated out-of-pocket costs with the traditional insurance alone was $18,343 compared to $6,160 with the Zenith/HCS combination.  A savings of 66%!

Core Family Practice, a DPC practice in Kennett Square, PA, compared a 90-day supply of four common primary care medications purchased through Aetna’s Mail-order supplier with the prices their members pay for same quantity.  The annual cost for the Aetna mail-order came to $2,248.68 compared to only $850.80 for the same medications from Core’s generic supplier, which were dispensed in the office. That $1,397.88 savings equates to a 61% reduction in out-of-pocket costs for the married couple!  They also looked at the costs of obtaining three sets of commonly ordered lab tests for the same couple.  Out-of-pocket costs using their high-deductible plan (QHDHP) was $480 in lab test responsibility. The same tests drawn and paid at time of services to Core FP totaled $63.17 yielding an incredible 87% reduction.

All components of healthcare spending add to cost of care. But the overwhelming cost drivers for the U.S. healthcare system are embedded so deeply within the way we access and pay for medical services that we often overlook them, choosing instead to blame the symptoms for the disease rather than the disease for the symptoms.

So the next time you hear someone say or pen the words, “health insurance is expensive because healthcare is expensive”, please gently remind them of the facts. It is the unwise use of a pre-paid, highly regulated & gated access model, masquerading as insurance, that causes medical care to be more expensive than it needs to be; and the same payment model suppresses the market for more cost-effective alternative pathways to access healthcare.

Posted in Access to healthcare, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Essential Benefits under the ACA, Free-Market, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Medical Practice Models, Network Discounts, Policy Issues, Third-Party Free Practices, third-party payments, Uncategorized

Irrational Healthcare Payment System Drives Costs And Why Payers Go Along With It | Robert Nelson, MD | LinkedIn


Our third-party payer system, by the nature of how coding & billing is contractually mandated, promotes increased health spending on aggregate – and the economic design of the system includes a perverse incentive to keep the spending going. 

real-health-care-expenditures-and-third-party-largerThis occurs in large part due to price insensitivity on the consumer-patient side due to the low marginal cost of entry compared to the inflated CPT billed charges which serve as a pivot point for network discounts. i.e. ~ once a co-pay is paid, patients don’t have any incentive to know or care what is done or how much it costs. 

 

These perverse motivations are what keeps premiums going up and up… Without utilization (claims), there is no other way to grow the pie because payers are not free to make a higher profit margin beyond the mandated cap, even if they do things to lower aggregate utilization which might lower premiums for everyone.  In other words, payers are not rewarded for efficiency, they reap financial reward to the extent that utilization, thus costs, continue to rise. 

Source: Irrational Healthcare Payment System Drives Costs And Why Payers Go Along With It | Robert Nelson, MD | LinkedIn

Posted in Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), Deductibles, Economic Issues, Employee Benefits, Medical Costs, News From Washington, DC & Related Shenanigans, Patient Choice, Pre-existing Conditions, Uncategorized

Five Things To Know About Obamacare Premiums: A Guide For The Perplexed « Concierge Medicine Today

Five Things To Know About Obamacare Premiums: A Guide For The Perplexed « Concierge Medicine Today.

Posted in Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), Economic Issues, Medical Costs, News From Washington, DC & Related Shenanigans, Reforming Medicaid, Uncategorized

The More Businesses Learn About Obamacare, The More Reluctant They Are To Hire

Sally Pipeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/sallypipes/2013/03/18/the-more-businesses-learn-about-obamacare-the-more-reluctant-they-are-to-hire/

Senate Passes Insurance Industry Aid Bill