Consumers are the point, not the problem
Yesterday, I railed against the habit of blaming the uninsured for our health care crisis, rather than the broken system itself. Today, I'll defend the insured, who often get blamed for rising health care costs.
Yes, reader, some policymakers say that it's your fault... because, apparently, you use too much health care.
And in this Orwellian world, the solution to rising health costs is to impose more costs onto patients.
From President Bush on down, the trend toward so-called "consumer directed" care is to make patients more price-sensitive on using health care in the first place, through high deductible plans and other forms of underinsurance. Under the guise of patient empowerment, we see more Californians underinsured, in a thinly-veiled attempt to shift the risk and cost of health care from employers and insurers to individual consumers and families.
The theory seems to rest on the notion that people binge-shop at the emergency room. In fact, the data show that even insured patients underutilize medical services.
High-deductible plans offer the worst of both worlds. Patients with significant cost-sharing are half as likely to go to the doctor, fill a prescription, or get needed emergency careand thus they have worse health outcomes. Many Californians who live paycheck-to-paycheck face serious debt and even bankruptcy before meeting a $5,000 deductible. Yet except for the rare catastrophic event, they are paying a premium to be uninsured.
Governor Schwarzenegger's plan features some of this "personal responsibility" policy direction, offering tax breaks for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)inappropriately using the tax code to encourage high deductible plans.
Those facing the mandate to buy coverage under the Governor's plan, without help from an employer or government, have two awful choices: a non-choice of buying comprehensive coverage that is simply out of reach for the vast majority of uninsured; or the option of buying a still-unaffordable $5,000 deductible plan that meets the requirement, but will not be affordable to actually use.
The Governor should know better. He appropriately talks about prevention, and how it is cost-effective for Californians to get care up front, before it becomes a bigger and more expensive problem. But these plans won't provide coverage for the preventive care known as disease management that really will save money with the big-ticket health costs: asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease.
Anthony Wright is the executive director of Health Access California, the statewide healthcare consumer advocacy coalition, which hosts a daily blog here.
Massachusetts is too expensive; California controls costs
Anthony, you make an important point about how some health services are underutilized. First on the list of what we need to encourage is prevention, and under Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal preventive care would be covered so people would have no financial reason to miss out on help in avoiding conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in the first place.
If we don't do a better job of preventing these conditions with relatively low-cost early interventions, there will never be enough money to pay for treating all these avoidable illnesses once they have set in. Those are treatments and costs to the system we all want to avoid. Meaningful reform must emphasize health care, not just sick care.