Patient-Centered Care, Yes; Patients As Consumers, No
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Moral hazard concerns suggest that the use of expensive hospitalizations, surgeries, and other interventions are shaped primarily by ability to pay. This perspective fails to recognize that most people consume such services only reluctantly. The use of these services is often driven by providers, not by patients. Indeed, academics and policy makers have expressed concern for decades about the reliance of the health insurance system on fee-for-service payments to physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers. Fee-for-service provides an incentive for physicians to deliver additional and more complex services than patients need (or more care than economists would view as efficient) because health care providers receive an additional payment for every additional service—and services that are viewed as more technically complex generate higher fees. In most countries outside the US, however, “provider-driven” demand is not countered by shifting costs to individual patients and asking them to control costs by acting as informed consumers in a marketplace. Instead, most countries rely on a combination of overall budget targets for health care services and systems of all-payer rate regulation in which national health insurance funds negotiate rates for hospital, physician, and other services with representatives from those professions. Because the US does not use the negotiating power of government to confront the power of providers, it pays higher prices for all medical goods and services than other countries do.
Not only is the use of market competition limited when it comes to asking patients to make efficient decisions about health care services and providers, but it also does not work well when it comes to making decisions about health insurance plans. Competition among health plans in the Medicare program was promoted as a method for reducing the costs of the program, but Medicare Advantage has not produced the intended savings. In fact, there has been some examination of choices made in Medicare Part D, suggesting that consumers do not necessarily make choices in their own best interests: Beneficiaries fail to select plans that provide better risk protection at lower cost. These findings are consistent with earlier work on choice overload and Medicare beneficiaries’ selection of health plans. The findings led economist Paul Krugman to exclaim that “‘consumer-based’ medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried.
While it is wise to help patients make more informed decisions about the costs of care and to grow in their ability to make quality comparisons across health systems, the main driver of health care costs is not consumer demand, but rather the introduction of new technologies and unwillingness on the part of US political leaders to regulate prices—or at least use government bargaining power as leverage to negotiate lower prices. The US relies on a system of uncoordinated payment by thousands of payers, many of which do not have the bargaining power necessary to drive down prices. This has resulted in high prices for medical services. Technological improvements in health care have driven increases in cost all over the world, but extraordinarily high prices and a refusal by government to regulate them or bargain them lower differentiate the US from other countries.
Comment by Don McCanne of PNHP: The authors are from the Hastings Center, a nonprofit bioethics research institute in New York. That is important to understand since the consumer-driven movement in health care has left out this one crucial element: ethics.
Advocates of consumer-driven health care have conflated the primacy of the patient with the patient-as-a-consumer metaphor, but the two have very little in common.
A discussion of this issue is very timely since legislation to enact a single payer Medicare for All program has been introduced in Congress. Elimination of financial barriers to care (deductibles and other cost sharing) is a fundamental feature of this model of reform. Consumer-driven models deliberately erect financial barriers to care in order to deter the use of health care services and thus reduce health care spending, but it does so at the cost of impairing access to beneficial health care services and potentially exposing patients to financial hardship. In sharp contrast, a well designed single payer model uses much more patient-friendly methods of controlling spending. Specifically, costs are contained through publicly-administered negotiated pricing and global budgeting. Pricing is high enough to ensure adequate capacity in the system yet not excessive, thereby ensuring that health care will be available and affordable for society as a whole.
As the authors conclude, we should not expect patients to solve society’s cost-containment challenges. “Pursuing the sensible goal of creating a patient-centered health system will be undermined if consumer metaphors prevail.” Thus it is an ethical imperative to reject consumer-driven health care and move forward with an equitable, affordable system that ensures essential health care for everyone – Single Payer Medicare for All.
Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction
March 6, 2019 at 2:04 PM #33512GZeusHParticipant
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What do you mean? I would think that when you are in atrial fibrillation, you would be highly motivated to shop around as a consumer in the health care marketplace and see which cardiologist can get your heart jump-started the cheapest.
Corporate America consists of totalitarian entities laser-focused on short-term greed.
If you just got finessed into calling the medicine that won the 2015 Nobel Prize for its role in treating human disease ‘horse de-wormer’ then you need to sit the next couple of plays out.
March 8, 2019 at 3:18 AM #34316Cold Mountain TrailParticipant
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its a machine to impoverish the boomers and their children after them
and enrich the top, of course, but that goes without saying
March 8, 2019 at 6:17 AM #34360jbnwParticipant
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Just try to get a price quote, such as is required by law for an auto repair! It took me multiple calls and days to even get an estimate on a specialist visit – and that was for a non-binding estimate.
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