Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Private health insurers admit they will always behave terribly

The group America’s Health Insurance Plans came out strongly against against the Cruz amendment in the Senate Republican health care bill, but the Cruz amendment is terrible only because America’s private health insurers are collectively promising to act terribly every chance they get.

The Cruz amendment would allow insurers to sell policies that don’t cover everything and exclude people who actually need health care. AHIP rightly notes:

As the U.S. Senate considers the Better Care Reconciliation Act, we are writing to urge you to strike the "Consumer Freedom Option" from the bill. It is simply unworkable in any from and would undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, increase premiums and lead to widespread terminations of coverage for people currently enrolled in the individual market.

What is important to note, however, is that this scenario only happens if the private insurers make it happen. The Cruz amendment merely allows insurers to offer deceiptive or exclusionary non-compliant plans -- the insurers don’t have to.

If the insurers really care about people with pre-existing conditions and a stable market, the insurers could reach a collective agreement that none of them would offers these plans -- problem solved. Just because the Cruz amendment would allow them to behave badly doesn’t mean they have to. The market only destabilizes if private insurers choose to destabilize it in the pursuit of short term profits.

The fact that no one inside or outside the industry thinks such collective action is even in the realm of possibility means that while condemning the Cruz amendment, the private insurers revealed something telling about their true nature.

AHIP is promising that as an industry, insurers will eventually exploit any legal leeway they are provided to make money, even if it costs people their lives. They are promising to do things they publicly admit are morally wrong if the government doesn’t hold them back at every turn.

They are indirectly admitting they can’t stop themselves from hurting people, like a werewolf begging to be chained up in the basement before the full moon. This who is in control of the country's health care.

Yet Democrats are still wondering why an individual mandate forcing people to be customers of an industry which admits they can’t be trusted was deeply unpopular.

Friday, July 7, 2017

An easy way to solve the Medicare For All tax problem

Polling has consistently shown broad public support for Medicare For All, or single payer health care, but every policy position is vulnerable to attacks. The most common attacks used against Medicare For All revolve the around overall cost and the need to raise new taxes. These issues can be a problem, but one that is easy to solve if supporters are willing to be creative.

Traditionally, single payer plans suffer from the issue of "big, scary numbers." Take, for example, the recent bill in California where headlines about it often focused on its overall cost to the government of $400 billion instead of the net change. Much of that $400 billion sticker price simply added up to the state consolidating the billions it spends on several health programs (Medicaid, state employe benefits) into one program.

It is also easy to scare people over the tax increases needed to pay for a pure single payer system, even though it would mean individuals would pay less in taxes for healthcare than they currently pay in premiums.

Supporters of Medicare For All should engage in a multi-faceted educational effort to inform people about the value of these trade-offs, but they should also realize there is an easy way to avoid some of these political problems

First, allow companies and individuals under 65 to buy into Medicare.

Second, require all companies buy their employees Medicare or private coverage at least as good Medicare from insurers that must pay into a risk adjustment program. This is already how Medicare basically works with Medicare Advantage, except companies would be making the choice.

Most of the cost of our healthcare system is already hidden from individuals by the tax-exempt status of employer-provided insurance; so instead of trying to teach everyone about this, just modify it. This plan would hurt companies that don’t already provide coverage but cause significantly less disruption than eliminating employer-provided insurance and replacing it with a new tax.

This plan mostly eliminates the need for very large new taxes or the "big, scary number" problem. Everyone with a job will technically get coverage via their work and those without jobs could mostly be covered by moving around money already spent on Medicaid, ACA, etc…

The strong employer mandate is not a perfect funding source, but it is good enough. In practical terms it would function much like a payroll tax with a ceiling. It is basically how Germany funds its health care system, and it would effectively get us to where the country needs to be.