Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Public Option To Have Pricing Subsidy

Back in July we got a preview of the difficult situation of creating a Public Option that "competes fairly" in the market versus the hint that the Public Option might pay doctors below market rates.

Today the Washington Post reports that the House is planning a reconciled bill that "would include a government-run insurance plan that pays providers at rates tied to Medicare." Medicare rates are well below commercial market rates for most healthcare services.

This development is unlikely to promote pricing transparency. Medicare's current payment system sets most physician fees at a similar level which could foster transparency. However, it is very difficult for patients to determine what the specific fees will be before they receive care. This difficulty arises from complicated geographic adjustments and the fact that care levels, and therefore pricing, are generally determined after the care is provided.

In addition, Medicare's rules provide different payments to providers based upon place of service and many other factors. If you have a service performed at one hospital you will likely pay a different rate than if you had used the hospital across town. Have the service performed at an out patient facility and it could be much less expensive.

If consumers don't know what healthcare costs before they get treatment, it is very unlikely they will be able to help get more value for all the dollars they spend. Let's hope that whatever shape the final health reform bill takes that it will at least bring more transparency to the consumer.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It is hard to read the paper or watch the news without hearing something about the H1N1 flu (also called swine flu). But what should patients do? how can they understand their symptoms? Should they try to get the vaccine early on?

Now there is a really nice website devoted to helping patients understand swine flu and more importantly what they need to do. The site is found at

It is sponsored by A.D.A.M. who has a great reputation for providing consumer health information. This new website has a key feature that allows individuals to take a free online assessment. According to A.D.A.M. the proprietary, interactive tool uses a “self-triage” branching logic system to assess the individual’s symptoms and other information and then provides information about the most appropriate course and timing for treatment.

I encourage you to check out

Monday, October 5, 2009

Too Much Care?

In the past couple of weeks health care writers have been warning about the pitfalls of too much care. Maybe they are priming the pump for the potential of healthcare rationing in the future? More likely they are revealing one of the areas that gets little attention but results in a lot of unnecessary expense.

A Washington Post article, In Delivering Care, More Isn't Always Better, Experts Say, explores the unnecessary care delivered each year. According to a 2008 report by New England Healthcare Institute, wasted expenditures total over $700 Billion every year.

The Wall Street Journal also addressed this issue recently: Getting Well: It's About Time. While we don't want patients to avoid necessary care, in many cases patients will get better own their own. For example, Americans spend approximately $1 billion every year on unnecessary antibiotics for viral infections. These antibiotics don't treat the illness and lead to antibiotic resistance.

The savings opportunities are large and they are real. However, it is unlikely we will achieve savings in this area unless we give consumers the incentives and education they need to make value based healthcare decisions.