Why Does an MRI Cost $2,500 Here and $250 in Finland?

 

JPen and money on CT-scan flim.ust had dinner with an old friend from Finland. He’s a physician so, of course, the talk turned to health care and the differences between our countries. I asked him how much an MRI cost in Finland. With a few clicks on his phone he had the answer: about $250. Not to be outdone, I pulled out my own phone. The average price of an MRI here? About $2,500.

And therein lies the problem. The US spends more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country in the world. The spending is driven by our high use of technology and the cost of health care. And before you say we have the best healthcare system in the world, let me tell you that we don’t.

Our country ranks last or near the bottom on nearly every health-related outcome compared to other high-income countries. In fact, life expectancy has actually dropped in the past couple of years for the first time in decades, with death rates rising for eight of the top 10 leading causes … Continue Reading

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Wave Goodbye to Your Health Insurance

 

This is the third in a series of posts examining various components of the Republican replacement plans for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Republicans Plan to Shred the Affordable Care Act

It’s here. The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Bottom line assessment? If you like the health insurance you have today you can say goodbye to it tomorrow, particularly if that insurance comes thanks to expanded Medicaid programs or a federal subsidy.

Here are the just a few of the highlights of the two proposed bills:

1. Scraps the individual mandate; adds a penalty.

Currently, all Americans are required to have some kind of health insurance or pay a penalty. This ensures that healthy people buy into the system to help offset the costs of sick people, a requirement if you also mandate that insurers cover those with pre-existing conditions without jacking up the price of the insurance.

Under the new plan, you don’t have to have insurance. But if you don’t, and then you try to buy it, the insurer can charge you a 30 percent … Continue Reading

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Yes, Mr. President, Health Care Is Complicated

 

Toothpaste tubeI nearly fell off the couch when I read the President’s statement that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Um, Mr. President, everyone knew. In fact, health care is considered the most complex industry out there. That would be why, as you and your colleagues are finding, transforming the system is “incredibly complex.” It is also why it will be nearly impossible to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with something better unless you move to a single-payer system.You can, of course, focus on fixing its weaknesses.

I remember a healthcare economics course I took when I was in my 20s. During the first class, the professor told us: “Take every basic economic concept out there, including resource allocation, supply-and-demand pricing, and rational consumer behavior, and toss it aside. Very few apply to health care.”

The past 30 years as a healthcare writer have reaffirmed that statement hundreds of times over.

The Health Care System as a Tube of Toothpaste

I have my own analogy to describe the US healthcare system. I think of it as a tube … Continue Reading

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Replacing the ACA: Selling Across State Lines

A United States map with a stethoscope across it, symbolizing national health care policy and wellness of the population

A cornerstone of every Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the president’s plan, is to allow health insurance companies to sell their products across state lines. The Republicans claim this will increase competition and drive down costs.

Health policy experts, including the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Center for Insurance Policy and Research, say it will do exactly the opposite: Drive up costs and reduce choice, particularly for those with medical conditions.

State Regulations on Health Insurance

First, a bit of background. States regulate all small group and individual health insurance policies through their insurance commissioner, although the federal government sets certain minimum requirements that plans must offer, like the 10 essential benefits required under the ACA.

States can mandate that their licensed insurers add certain benefits, like infertility coverage. They also determine how much older people can be charged for premiums on the individual market and how much money insurers must have available to pay claims.

… Continue Reading

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Winners and Losers: Assessing the Ramifications of Repealing Obamacare

 

Opposing ropes pulling on a doctor stethoscope as a symbol of the US healthcare systemAfter voting at least 60 times over the past six years to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ie, Obamacare) only to see their efforts stymied in the Senate, the Republican House is fairly foaming at the mouth at their golden opportunity to reach Nirvana now that they also control the Senate.

Indeed, the Senate passed a budget resolution on January 4 to begin the process, instructing the House to have a repeal bill ready by January 27. You can read how this might work in this excellent article in The New York Times.

There’s just one problem: Despite the six years they’ve spent trying to kill the ACA, the Republicans still have no replacement.

So here’s just a sneak peek at what might happen if they follow through on their threats.

10 Things We Will Lose if We Lose the Affordable Care Act Insurance for more than 20 million Americans. Guaranteed coverage without higher premiums for those with pre-existing conditions. This would affect the 52 million Americans, … Continue Reading

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Memo to Health Insurers: Pay Attention to Us

Young woman looking stressed with a "help" cardboard sign

The text came from our 20 year old. His girlfriend had gone to her doctor to get the implantable birth control, Nexplanon, which (as every parent of a teenager might be happy to know) is nearly foolproof for 3 years. Needless to say, we were thrilled.

The problem?

It cost $1,500 and insurance wasn’t paying.

The Explanation of Benefits that Was Anything But

Impossible, I said (after all, there’s not much I know about but health insurance and the Affordable Care Act [ACA] are two). The ACA requires that most health insurers/employers provide all FDA-approved contraception with no out-of-pocket cost.

It took several back and forths between the girlfriend, her father, and me, including copies of the statement from the insurance company, before I figured it out. She was only seeing the insurance company statement, called an explanation of benefits (EOB), showing what was billed and what was paid. She didn’t owe a thing.

And therein likes one of the many problems with health insurance today. It’s unnecessarily complicated and confusing. After all, … Continue Reading

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Dear Donald: Here’s How Health Insurance Works

handwritten lettter

Dear Donald (I can call you Donald, right?):

I really appreciate that you think there are certain parts of “Obamacare” worth keeping. Like continuing to be able to cover adult children up to age 26 on your health insurance (I’ve got one of those on our health insurance right now) and ensuring that health insurers can’t discriminate or charge higher premiums based on preexisting conditions.

There’s just one teeny, tiny problem. There is no way to keep the preexisting condition part without also keeping the mandate that everyone has some kind of health insurance.

It might be a little complicated for you, so I’ve done my best to bring it down to a first-grade reading level.

An Analogy for How Health Insurance Works

1) Insurance, any insurance, is based on a risk model. The more people in the risk pool, the less impact the truly risky have on the pool.

Think of it this way. If you put five drops of red food coloring in a swimming pool, there’s no change in color. If you put … Continue Reading

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Is The ACA As Big A Mess As Everyone Says?

 

Affordable Care Act – Image of pills and coinsMaybe. But many of the problems the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now encountering – insurance companies on the exchanges pulling out, large premium increases in some states – are not unexpected given the design of the program.

Major problem? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill set the penalties for not having insurance too low. Far lower than the cost of the insurance to begin with. So there is little incentive for healthy people to enroll. Without healthy people enrolling, it was only a matter of time before the death spiral began.

It’s a simple equation: Sick people + no preexisting condition restriction – healthy people = high spending that outstrips existing premiums.

To add insult to injury the government was too lenient in allowing people to sign up outside of open enrollment, ie, when they got sick and needed the insurance. Plus, as The New York Times explained in a recent editorial, insurers set premiums too low in the beginning in order to attract enrollees.

Is the ACA … Continue Reading

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Ladies: Stop Cutting Off Healthy Breasts

bra_breast_cancerReally scary story in The Wall Street Journal this week about a dramatic increase in double mastectomies in this country — and not for women who need them.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer only need a lumpectomy in the affected breast or, more rarely, a mastectomy. There is no evidence that removing the healthy breast reduces the risk of recurrence or increases survival.

Yet rates of double mastectomy among women diagnosed with breast cancer have skyrocketed in the past 13 years, from 2 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2011. And no, it’s not because women have been diagnosed with more severe breast cancer or some major study showed that slicing off healthy breasts keeps cancer at bay.

As one plastic surgeon quoted in the Journal article tells his patients: “Why don’t we simply remove your foot? It will have the same effect on survival.”

Don’t take my word for it; check out this study of 190,000 women with breast cancer that compared survival rates in those who had a double mastectomy vs those who underwent lumpectomy followed by radiation. Bottom line: … Continue Reading

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