Similarly, we can expect that any product if provided at steeply discounted prices as compared with its real costs, will be treated like the all you can eat buffets. Thus we have the health care economy. The health care restaurateurs have also been provided with rich incentives to induce their clients to graze, not just on cheap pasta and other fillers, but more so on caviar, foie gras, lobster tail, and truffles. Not unexpectedly the diners consume beyond their needs, the providers see no reason to withhold anything, and those who pick up the tab are going broke.
There appears to an increasing appreciation of the looming financial calamity which will not be responsive to financial gimmicks and robbing from Peter to pay Paul. The NEJM has actually published two recent commentaries which have all but declared that something fundamental has to change. The continued rate of growth in the costs of health care above and beyond the growth of the underlying economy will consume us, no matter how much waste is ferreted out and no matter how high the tax rates climb. This is well articulated in the article:
The Specter of Financial Armageddon — Health Care and Federal Debt in the United States
Michael E. Chernew, Ph.D., Katherine Baicker, Ph.D., and John Hsu, M.D., M.B.A., M.S.C.E.http://healthcarereform.nejm.org/?p=3170&query=TOC
However, when the authors have a chance to look at the really difficult choices we face, they include a list adapted from a WSJ piece by David Cutler:
Proposed Strategies for Reducing Health Care Spending.*
Establish insurance exchanges.
Reduce excessive Medicare payments.
Shift from a volume-based to a value-based payment system in Medicare.
Tax generous insurance plans.
Empower an independent Medicare advisory board.
Address and reduce fraud and abuse within the Medicare program.
Enact malpractice reform.
Invest in information technology and comparative-effectiveness research.
Invest in prevention.
*Cutler D. Health reform passes the cost test. Wall Street Journal. March 9, 2010
There is something missing here. Where are the incentives for patients to not gorge at the all you can consume health care buffet? No matter how complex and comprehensive the regulation, enforcement has to happen in a world filled with clever and motivated providers highly incentivized not to leave money on the table and buttressed by the prize of providing the best care for their patients using someone else's money.
Administrative pricing + third party payer involvement + further insulation of recipients from the costs of the services they demand + command and control management systems = Solution to financial Amagedon?? I don't think so. As long as the underlying structure which drives health care inflation is preserved, the Federal government will be impotent in reigning in the costs and the gluttony will continue.