22 February 2007

$4 trillion for the status quo

Most papers ran a version of the story on healthcare costs doubling by 2016 — according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’s deputy director John Poisal, who wrote it up for Health Affairs.

Poisal predicts healthcare costs to go up 6.9 percent a year — not bad, he says.

Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Fund begs to differ, saying that the spending is unsustainable.
Health care is expected to account for $1 of every $5 spent in the United States in another decade.

That means a rise in out-of-pocket expenses, such as the copays for medicine, from about $850 this year to about $1,400 in 2016, a 5.3 percent annual increase.

The cost of health insurance is projected to rise even more quickly during that same time - 6.4 percent annually.

Over the coming decade, spending on health care will continue to outpace the overall economy. By the year 2016, it will total nearly $4 trillion, economists at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a report being released Wednesday.

Today, the number is closer to $1 out of every $6, or $2 trillion.

Consumers are spending more on the latest treatments, despite their rising costs. For example, federal officials cite a significant increase in the use of imaging to detect blockages or other diseases.
Dr. Mark McClellan, who used to oversee Medicare and Medicaid, defended the increase by saying that it has bought a lot of people longer lives.

The story nowhere notes that citizens of other industrial countries live even longer than we do, and that they pay far less for it.

Remember that these numbers are without any reform — still leaving 15 to 30 percent of Americans uninsured or underinsured.

Or more — Poisal notes that employers will be asking workers to pay a greater percentage of the costs.

In fact, more employers will drop coverage all together with those kinds of price hikes, and more individuals and families will also drop their coverage.

I didn’t have health insurance for years when my son was little. I did what millions of single moms do — hoped for the best. We were healthy and I figured that if something awful happened that I’d pay for it. Or go on welfare, and the government would pay for it.

That’s the mindset of tens of thousands of families who are scraping by. Our big dinner out, maybe once a week, was to McDonalds, where I bought Josh a kids meal, I ate some of the fries, and we played in those plastic balls. I remember knowing that the only way I could have afforded healthcare would have been to get fired and go on welfare.

SCHIP programs have expanded since then, so that more kids can get coverage. Although like with everything else in America, it’s still survival of the fittest. Until they go through with reforms that automatically cover kids who are, for instance, eligible for reduced cost or free lunches, there will be a lot of kids whose mothers cannot think clearly enough to get their kids covered.

These are the moms schools call every year to let them know that their kids cannot come to school tomorrow because they still don’t have their shots.

That’s because mom can barely juggle work, daycare, and home — much less think through getting her kids covered.

It’s a bit crazy that Medicare, which up to the prescription benefit Part D launch in 2006, paid only 2 percent of prescription drug spending. Now that number is 22 percent. Part D is a poster child of how not to do healthcare reform. There’s just no way it’s sustainable. And shame on those folks who insist that there should be no formulary, that it should cover every medication at any price.

These moms would still have a tough time in Britain or France — because life is hard for single moms. But it doesn’t have to be so hard for the kids, with what we used to call a safety net and what British conservatives sneeringly call a nanny state.

To which Polly Toynbee, one of my favorite Guardian columnists, asks what’s wrong with that?

Me too, Polly. I always wanted a nanny to help. Let those politicians who deride the concept try single parenting for a while, especially moneyless. They’ll be wanting a nanny too.

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