The Health Care Racket_Paul Krugman NYT

For those who want to understand why US taxpayers are being ripped off by
paying the highest premium for a dysfunctional health care system New York
Times columnist Paul Krugman lays out the simple facts.
 
"it's an arms race between insurers, who deploy software and manpower trying
to find claims they can reject, and doctors and hospitals, who deploy their
own forces in an effort to outsmart or challenge the insurers. And the cost
of this arms race ends up being borne by the public, in the form of higher
health care prices and higher insurance premiums."

"Like denial management, however, marketing and underwriting cost a lot of
money. McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, recently released an
important report dissecting the reasons America spends so much more on
health care than other wealthy nations. One major factor is that we spend
$98 billion a year in excess administrative costs, with more than half of
the total accounted for by marketing and underwriting – costs that don't
exist in single-payer systems."

"Incidentally, while insurers are very good at saying no to doctors,
hospitals and patients, they're not very good at saying no to more powerful
players. Drug companies, in particular, charge much higher prices in the
United States than they do in countries like Canada, where the government
health care system does the bargaining. McKinsey estimates that the United
States pays $66 billion a year in excess drug costs, and overpays for
medical devices like knee and hip implants, too."

If this Congress wants to get real about health care, the McKinsey report
provides a cost-saving blueprint for reform.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
212-595-8974
veracare@ahrp.org
 
http://select.nytimes.com/2007/02/16/opinion/16krugman.html
THE NEW YORK TIMES
 February 16, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Health Care Racket
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Is the health insurance business a racket? Yes, literally – or so say two
New York hospitals, which have filed a racketeering lawsuit against
UnitedHealth Group and several of its affiliates.
I don't know how the case will turn out. But whatever happens in court, the
lawsuit illustrates perfectly the dysfunctional nature of our health
insurance system, a system in which resources that could have been used to
pay for medical care are instead wasted in a zero-sum struggle over who ends
up with the bill.

The two hospitals accuse UnitedHealth of operating a "rogue business plan"
designed to avoid paying clients' medical bills. For example, the suit
alleges that patients were falsely told that Flushing Hospital was "not a
network provider" so UnitedHealth did not pay the full network rate.
UnitedHealth has already settled charges of misleading clients about
providers' status brought by New York's attorney general: the company paid
restitution to plan members, while attributing the problem to computer
errors.

The legal outcome will presumably turn on whether there was deception as
well as denial – on whether it can be proved that UnitedHealth deliberately
misled plan members. But it's a fact that insurers spend a lot of money
looking for ways to reject insurance claims. And health care providers, in
turn, spend billions on "denial management," employing specialist firms –
including Ingenix, a subsidiary of, yes, UnitedHealth – to fight the
insurers.

So it's an arms race between insurers, who deploy software and manpower
trying to find claims they can reject, and doctors and hospitals, who deploy
their own forces in an effort to outsmart or challenge the insurers. And the
cost of this arms race ends up being borne by the public, in the form of
higher health care prices and higher insurance premiums.

Of course, rejecting claims is a clumsy way to deny coverage. The best way
for an insurer to avoid paying medical bills is to avoid selling insurance
to people who really need it. An insurance company can accomplish this in
two ways, through marketing that targets the healthy, and through
underwriting: rejecting the sick or charging them higher premiums.

Like denial management, however, marketing and underwriting cost a lot of
money. McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, recently released an
important report dissecting the reasons America spends so much more on
health care than other wealthy nations. One major factor is that we spend
$98 billion a year in excess administrative costs, with more than half of
the total accounted for by marketing and underwriting – costs that don't
exist in single-payer systems.

And this is just part of the story. McKinsey's estimate of excess
administrative costs counts only the costs of insurers. It doesn't, as the
report concedes, include other "important consequences of the multipayor
system," like the extra costs imposed on providers. The sums doctors pay to
denial management specialists are just one example.

Incidentally, while insurers are very good at saying no to doctors,
hospitals and patients, they're not very good at saying no to more powerful
players. Drug companies, in particular, charge much higher prices in the
United States than they do in countries like Canada, where the government
health care system does the bargaining. McKinsey estimates that the United
States pays $66 billion a year in excess drug costs, and overpays for
medical devices like knee and hip implants, too.

To put these numbers in perspective: McKinsey estimates the cost of
providing full medical care to all of America's uninsured at $77 billion a
year. Either eliminating the excess administrative costs of private health
insurers, or paying what the rest of the world pays for drugs and medical
devices, would by itself more or less pay the cost of covering all the
uninsured. And that doesn't count the many other costs imposed by the
fragmentation of our health care system.

Which brings us back to the racketeering lawsuit. If UnitedHealth can be
shown to have broken the law – and let's just say that this company, which
is America's second-largest health insurer, has a reputation for playing
even rougher than its competitors – by all means, let's see justice done.
But the larger problem isn't the behavior of any individual company. It's
the ugly incentives provided by a system in which giving care is punished,
while denying it is rewarded.

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The New York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/

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