Insight, analysis & opinion from Joe Paduda

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Feb
17

Could Medicare for All solve your healthcare cost problem?

You can’t afford other stuff because healthcare is so expensive. Would Single Payer/Medicare for All fix that?

I’m revisiting the topic so we can better understand the many variations of SP/MFA, how they are different, how those variations might work, and whether some version is a) politically viable and b) would solve the cost/access/quality conundrum.

Last week I made the case that voters want healthcare solved, and they don’t much care about the details and nuance. We also showed that employer-sponsored health insurance is a mess.

Can private insurers solve the healthcare cost problem? Well, on one level they get dinged if they control costs. A key point about for-profit insurers – the stock market loves and rewards revenue growth. In health insurance, revenue growth is overwhelmingly driven by higher medical costs. So, medical cost inflation = higher revenues = higher stock prices (yes, this is simplistic, but also mostly true).

Over the last two years insurers have kept premium increases low, but that’s due in large part to cost-shifting to members. In contrast, Medicare can’t cut costs by shifting them to you – benefits are set by law and rarely change significantly.

The big increase in Medicare 2000s was largely drive by the new Part D drug program; focus on per capita costs to account for changes in membership

 

As we’ve noted previously, facility prices are the biggest driver of cost inflation – and that’s where Medicare outperforms commercial payers. Of course commercial payers will say that’s because Medicare can force payers to agree to its prices – which, although true, begs the question – why can’t commercial payers do the same?

One main reason – in many areas, provider consolidation has given health systems market power – health providers have more leverage so they have an advantage in negotiations.

In 43% of markets, providers are super-concentrated, vs only 5% of markets for health insurers

But – in over half of the markets, insurers are highly concentrated – which means they have significant market power.

Reality is health insurers have failed to control members’ healthcare costs. There are lots of reasons – including provider market consolidation, but as one of my rowing coaches once said to me; “I don’t want to hear why you can’t, I want to hear how you will”.

What does this mean for you?

If for-profit health insurers had done their job – controlling costs and delivering better outcomes and patient satisfaction – you wouldn’t be reading this.

Medicare has a better track record controlling cost – which is by far the most important issue in healthcare.


Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates

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