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Showing posts with label National Health Care. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Health Care. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Massachusetts Health Mess


Massachusetts Shows How ObamaCare Would Really Work

From The Wall Street Journal

In a rational world, the prognosis for ObamaCare would wait on the evidence in Massachusetts, given that the commonwealth's 2006 program closely resembles what Democrats are trying to do in Washington. If the results were widely known, it might be dead on arrival.

The Massachusetts law, which was championed by former GOP Governor Mitt Romney, imposed an individual mandate, requiring nearly all residents to buy health insurance or else pay a penalty. (The exceptions are those who qualify for the state's public program.) This was supposed to cover everybody and save money too. We've written before about how costs have exploded, but it also turns out that consumers have other ideas.

For 15 years Massachusetts has also imposed mandates known as guaranteed issue and community rating -- meaning that insurers must cover anyone who applies, regardless of health or pre-existing conditions, and also charge everyone the same premium (or close to it). Yet these mandates allow people to wait until they're sick, or just before they're about to incur major medical expenses, to buy insurance. This drives up costs for everyone else, which helps explain why small-group coverage in Massachusetts is so much more expensive than in most of the country. Mr. Romney argued -- as Democrats are arguing now -- that the individual mandate would make that problem disappear, since everyone is always supposed to be covered.

Well, the returns are rolling in, and a useful case study comes from the community-based health plan Harvard-Pilgrim. CEO Charlie Baker reports that his company has seen an "astonishing" uptick in people buying coverage for a few months at a time, running up high medical bills, and then dumping the policy after treatment is completed and paid for. Harvard-Pilgrim estimates that between April 2008 and March 2009, about 40% of its new enrollees stayed with it for fewer than five months and on average incurred about $2,400 per person in monthly medical expenses. That's about 600% higher than Harvard-Pilgrim would have otherwise expected.

The individual mandate penalty for not having coverage is only about $900, so people seem to be gaming the Massachusetts system. "This is a problem," Mr. Baker writes on his blog, in the understatement of the year. "It is raising the prices paid by individuals and small businesses who are doing the right thing by purchasing twelve months of health insurance, and it's turning the whole notion of shared responsibility on its ear."

Mr. Baker is right, though he underestimates the extent to which it is rational for people to do this, considering the government-mandated incentives. To one degree or another all insurance pools require the younger and healthier to subsidize the older and sicker, though part of the risk-sharing bargain is the hedge against unanticipated or future health problems -- i.e., true insurance. The combination of guaranteed issue and community rating actively encourages parts of the healthier population to forgo coverage and thus blow up voluntary risk pools. No doubt our politicians will conclude that the solution is to raise the penalty for going uninsured, though it would be easier and more rational to let insurance markets function without mandates.

For many Democrats, none of this is really a surprise, or even important. Their Rube Goldberg rules are meant to transfer the costs of health care away from individuals and onto someone else -- private companies like Harvard-Pilgrim in the short term, and over time onto taxpayers. Why lobbyist Karen Ignagni is still putting the health-insurance industry's head on the Washington chopping block is a mystery for the ages.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Romney's National Health Preview


We have never understood how some conservatives have been seduced by Mitt Romney. He seems to us like the quintessential, big government, big spending, liberal, Rockefeller Republican. His socialist prescriptions for health care offer a good preview of what Obama is eager to inflict on America. The costs of health care in Massachusetts have increased 42% since health care became "free" in 2006. The Romney imposed debacle is bankrupting the state. But then isn't that the point of Obama's policies -- create out-of-control costs, ruin, devastation, a really good crisis, from which will spring radical Marxist reforms.

Today's Wall Street Journal previews what is being prepared for the nation:

The Massachusetts debacle, coming soon to your neighborhood.

Praise Mitt Romney. Three years ago, the former Massachusetts Governor had the inadvertent good sense to create the "universal" health-care program that the White House and Congress now want to inflict on the entire country. It is proving to be instructive, as Mr. Romney's foresight previews what President Obama, Max Baucus, Ted Kennedy and Pete Stark are cooking up for everyone else.

[Review & Outlook] AP

Mitt Romney

In Massachusetts's latest crisis, Governor Deval Patrick and his Democratic colleagues are starting to move down the path that government health plans always follow when spending collides with reality -- i.e., price controls. As costs continue to rise, the inevitable results are coverage restrictions and waiting periods. It was only a matter of time.

They're trying to manage the huge costs of the subsidized middle-class insurance program that is gradually swallowing the state budget. The program provides low- or no-cost coverage to about 165,000 residents, or three-fifths of the newly insured, and is budgeted at $880 million for 2010, a 7.3% single-year increase that is likely to be optimistic. The state's overall costs on health programs have increased by 42% (!) since 2006.

Like gamblers doubling down on their losses, Democrats have already hiked the fines for people who don't obtain insurance under the "individual mandate," already increased business penalties, taxed insurers and hospitals, raised premiums, and pumped up the state tobacco levy. That's still not enough money.

So earlier this year, Mr. Patrick appointed a state commission to figure out how to control costs and preserve "this grand experiment." One objective is to change the incentives for preventative care and treatments for chronic disease, but everyone says that. It sometimes results in better health but always more spending. So-called "pay for performance" financing models, on the other hand, would do away with fee for service -- but they also tend to reward process, not the better results implied.

What are the alternatives? If health planners won't accept the prices set by the marketplace -- thus putting themselves out of work -- the only other choice is limiting care via politics, much as Canada and most of Europe do today. The Patrick panel is considering one option to "exclude coverage of services of low priority/low value." Another would "limit coverage to services that produce the highest value when considering both clinical effectiveness and cost." (Guess who would determine what is high or low value? Not patients or doctors.) Yet another is "a limitation on the total amount of money available for health care services," i.e., an overall spending cap.

The Institute for America's Future -- which is providing the intellectual horsepower (we use the term loosely) for reforms like those in Massachusetts -- argues that the cost overruns prove the state must cap how much insurers are allowed to charge consumers and regulate their profits. If Mr. Patrick doesn't get there first, that is. He reportedly told insurers and hospitals at a closed meeting this month that if they didn't take steps to hold down the rate of medical inflation, he would.

Even the single-payer cheerleaders at the New York Times have caught on to this rolling catastrophe. In a page-one story this month, the paper reported on the "expedient choice" that Mr. Romney and Democrats made to defer "until another day any serious effort to control the state's runaway health costs. . . . Those who led the 2006 effort said it would not have been feasible to enact universal coverage if the legislation had required heavy cost controls. The very stakeholders who were coaxed into the tent -- doctors, hospitals, insurers and consumer groups -- would probably have been driven into opposition by efforts to reduce their revenues and constrain their medical practices, they said."

Now they tell us. What really whipped along RomneyCare were claims that health care would be less expensive if everyone were covered. But reducing costs while increasing access are irreconcilable issues. Mr. Romney should have known better before signing on to this not-so-grand experiment, especially since the state's "free market" reforms that he boasts about have proven to be irrelevant when not fictional. Only 21,000 people have used the "connector" that was supposed to link individuals to private insurers.

Which brings us to Washington, where Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats are about to try their own Bay State bait and switch: First create vast new entitlements that can never be repealed, then later take the less popular step of rationing care when it's their last hope to save the federal fisc.

The consequences of that deception will be far worse than those in Massachusetts, however, given that prior to 2006 the state already had a far smaller percentage of its population uninsured than the national average. The real lesson of Massachusetts is that reform proponents won't tell Americans the truth about what "universal" coverage really means: Runaway costs followed by price controls and bureaucratic rationing.



Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Doctor Will See All of You Now

Governor Romney's Universal Health Care Becomes Law in Massachusetts

By Phyllis Schlafly

You are sitting in a doctor's waiting room with eight other sick patients and the nurse announces: The doctor will see all of you now — at the same time. That's how the Boston Globe recently described shared visits that are being used to cope with the long waits now customary in Massachusetts.


Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama are planning that the new Democratic Congress's first order of business will be to extend the Massachusetts health-care mistake to all 50 states. Like other legislative rush-acts (i.e., the 2007 amnesty bill and the 2008 bailouts), details are currently withheld to avoid giving members of Congress and the public adequate time to analyze the bill before the vote is called.


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