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Business executive at party: “What do you and your friends do?”

Me: “We work at the medical school”

Business executive: “No, I know that. I mean what is it that you guys DO”

Me: “We all work in different areas. For example I train doctors in Family Medicine”

Business executive: “Well, tell me, why do we need Obamacare”

Me: Very long, detailed soliloquy about pre-existing conditions, the contributors to the cost of health care, etc, fueled by lots of wine and ending in the need for Medicare for All if we don’t let Obamacare do what it was designed to do.

Business executive: “So why does it need to be so complicated? Why can’t folks just pay for insurance?”

Me: Sigh. “Excuse me, I’m going inside for a bit. Can I bring you anything?”

It is difficult to discuss health system reform with people not closely engaged in care delivery. Most people have interfaced with the care delivery system and so believe they know how best to fix it. Most people consume under $300 worth of healthcare annually but don’t question the opportunity cost of having access (over $17,000 annually for a private insurance plan). Most people are thrilled when told of a negative test (“Congratulations, it’s not cancer”) but don’t question whether the test should have been done in the first place. Airplane crashes put the focus on the safety of the aviation industry because 300 people dying at a time is newsworthy. Losing 4000 people annually in Alabama to premature heart disease because of a poorly performing health system is a yawner.

In any given year, only 5% or fewer of the US population use the healthcare system for something serious like cancer Most folks who interface the care delivery system (make a doctors appointment) do so for a self-limited illness. They come in either because a) they want assurances they are not going to die and want to feel better or b) they need a note for work. From a survey done in 2014, when a person seeks care here is what they want:

  1. Be seen without an appointment within 30 minutes any time of the day or night for $0 to include labs and x-rays done on site.
  2. Have the same person see them every time and have them spend unlimited time explaining symptoms
  3. Have this magic 24/365 office close to home (next door is preferable).

Business executives, I suspect, pretty much get this type of care. Michael Jackson, for example, had his own cardiologist. Access costs money. In corporations the CEO tends to have the same insurance as the lowest wage earner. What happens when a large corporation pays for care that includes this type of access? The executive may not be worried by the high premium (average is over $12,000 annually for a family plan) and additional company cost ($5000). The low wage worker, on the other hand, might be willing to trade immediate access for better food or housing choices but isn’t often given the choice. Obamacare was designed, in part, to put the brakes on healthcare inflation.

In states where the Affordable Care Act has been fully implemented more employers are paying for health care and more people are covered by other types of coverage. As more people have ended up on public plans (Medicare and Medicaid) health care inflation has reduced. The number of bankruptcies due to medical conditions have fallen precipitously.

Despite all of the rhetoric, it appears that the system reforms put in place by the Obama administration are working. In an essay in Vox, Mae Rice points out that spending some money on a small luxury like Starbucks every day can lead to enhanced responsibility. We, as a society, have a responsibility to people like her. Not to ask her for her Starbucks money. Not to blame her for failing to save for a catastrophic illness that is unanticipatable. Not to ask her to be a prisoner at a minimum wage job so her CEO can get 24/7/365 access to any specialist she wants. We have a responsibility to provide access to quality healthcare at a reasonable cost. Although not perfect, Obamacare is moving us in that direction. As a society, this is a responsibility all of us, including business executives, should take very seriously.

 

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Image result for keep away cartoon

I have resisted from writing posts on this blog because it seemed that I was always saying the same thing. To people who wanted to stay away from my services I would offer:

  • Be born to healthy, wealthy parents
  • Live around healthy, wealthy neighbors
  • Pick the least processed food option to eat
  • Stay physically active
  • Stay in school until you get an advanced degree
  • Get and keep a job in air conditioning
  • Don’t take up cigarettes, drink alcohol only in moderation, avoid illicit drugs
  • Avoid narcotics for pain unless for surgical pain and then only for 3 days.

The other thing that people on some level realize is that that even if they do this things they will end up needing access to the healthcare system eventually. If you know anyone with cancer, who has been in a car accident, or any octogenarian you know this to be true.  Once you realize that, despite your best efforts, disease occurs randomly then health insurance becomes a necessity.

With the passage of Obamacare, I no longer needed to explain to people that not all health insurance was created equal. Obamacare required coverage for preexisting conditions, improved healthcare quality, and dictated what must be included in health insurance policies. In other words, people who buy Obamacare policies now know what they are getting.

Except that Obamacare is dead. The Trump administration just approved short term, limited duration health benefits.  Trumpcare is the new thing.

The new Trumpcare plans will be cheap for people who are healthy enough to qualify. But they don’t cover much. If you find you’re having a baby, or need a weekend stay at a hospital, or even something as exotic as prescription drugs, you’re out of luck. The Journal editorial page insists this will all be fine, because “not everyone needs all benefits,” and also, “[t]he HHS rule also stipulates that issuers must prominently display a notice that the coverage isn’t compliant with the Affordable Care Act. Everyone will know what they’re buying.”

If you buy a Trumpcare policy here is exactly what you will be buying:

You may not be able to get one. Companies selling Trumpcare policies can elect to limit their policies to people in good health. They can do this by discriminating based on health status, gender, age, and any other factors that predicts that you might actually USE the policy. The discrimination can be outright denial, very high premiums, or excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions. You might get insurance but not for your heart condition after you went to the doctor for palpitations, for example.

So you get a policy, now what? Hope you read the fine print. Obamacare has 10 elements that must be provided for it to be called health insurance. Trumpcare policies, on the other hand, typical do not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health care, preventive care, or other essential benefits. Don’t like the $5,000 Obamacare Silver plan out of pocket limit? Trumpcare has limits as high as $20,000. This means that of the 5,000 adults cared for in our hospital this past year, Trumpcare would be of little or no help to over half of them.

That’s OK. People need to live healthier. You intend to only use it if you get, say, bad cancer or a in a terrible car wreck. Funny story, that. Policy caps are as low as $250,000. Which means that another 70 people would pay their $20,000 and then have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket because they were TOO sick.

Buying a Trumpcare policy, then, might be cheaper and might even make you feel better. At least until you get sick.

 

 

 

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