Friday, May 10, 2013

Obama reveals hospitals' real prices. Now what??

There goes that socialist Obama Administration again!:

The database released on Wednesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services lays out for the first time and in voluminous detail how much the vast majority of American hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures billed to Medicare. The database -- which covers claims filed within fiscal year 2011 -- spans 163,065 individual charges recorded at 3,337 hospitals located in 306 metropolitan areas.

This time Obama had the gall to publicly release information about the real prices that hospitals and doctors charge for medical procedures.  So that people, can, like, you know, compare prices and stuff.

If that sounds like something out the free market, you're right. But that doesn't matter, because it was OBAMA who publicized the information!  He always has a diabolical ulterior motive!  We just don't know what it is yet....

Seriously though, I know from personal experience that the prices hospitals charge are totally wacko. Recently my young child spent five days in the hospital while our registration for new health insurance, retroactive to Jan. 1, was still in process.  She's perfectly fine now, thank Allah, but we subsequently received a hospital bill for $31,000.  Bill collectors immediately started to call the house several times a day, every day, and all we could tell them was the same thing the insurance company told us: the paperwork is still in process; later the hospital could re-submit the claim.  

After our health insurance finally kicked in and the claim was processed, the hospital told us over the phone that our share would be about $3,000, but a few months have passed and still no bill for $3,000.  Meanwhile the hospital's billing office asked us to submit an application for a discount, which we did.  I suspect that $3,000 remaining charge will simply disappear, but if not.... Thankfully, I can afford to pay it, but for most poor families an unexpected medical emergency like that would ruin them.  

Indeed, medical bills are the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.

This case illustrates why health care can never be a free market.  First, the patient has no clue what he needs to buy.  If you're in critical condition and the doctor says, "We're going to stick this tube down your throat," you're not going to second-guess him... and meanwhile bargain or threaten to "take your business elsewhere."  No, you just do whatever he says, immediately. (This is assuming you're conscious at the time; otherwise the doctor just does it.)  

As a medical "consumer," you rarely have an actual choice.  Without information/knowledge, prices and choice there cannot be a competitive free market.  

The most that such information provided by Obama can do is help a patient after the fact who asks his provider, "Why did you charge me so much, when Hospital X down the road charges one-tenth as much for the same thing?"  But a patient is in a pretty weak bargaining position ex post facto.

This case also illustrates why everybody needs to be insured.  You cannot plan for the unplanned that costs who-knows-how-much.  And you're in no condition to bargain when you're critically ill.  That's why people buy insurance.  But for any kind of insurance scheme to work, the insurance pool has to be large enough to spread out risk and expense over many customers/insured.

Usually it's the 49 million poorer Americans who have no health insurance. The sick irony is that those people who are least able to pay are the ones asked to pay the full, "real" price of medical treatment.  Of course they often cannot pay.  So the hospital's actual cost for that treatment, whatever it really is, gets passed onto those who can pay, i.e. to health insurance companies.  It's a terribly messed-up "system."

Again, let me remind you that Obamacare opts to work primarily through this existing labyrinth of private health insurance.  This is the same system that Republicans think is not broken so we don't need to fix it.  Obamacare's most unpopular aspect -- the individual mandate -- requires people to participate in this "free-market" system.  It sets up new healthcare exchanges where people can buy private health insurance.  This is all as the Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney said it should be, before Obama took their suggestion and they decided they hated it.  

Whereas many liberals like myself want us to have a single-payer system, aka Medicare for all, to keep down costs and ensure universal coverage. But our compromiser-in-chief didn't opt for that route, he never even tried.  

By Jeffrey Young and Chris Kirkham
May 8, 2013 | Huffington Post

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