Although I have deep concerns about how government would manage healthcare were it the sole provider of health insurance, there are so many terrible problems with the current system that single payer seems the only way out. Here is an example of why the concept of markets doesn’t work in healthcare: it is impossible to obtain reliable information.
Frank Lalli (a personal finance journalist) wrote in the NY Times of his Kafka-esque odyssey trying to find out what he would have to pay out of pocket for the drug Revlimid, which retails for $132,000/year. After 70 plus phone calls to 16 organizations, he still does not know the cost through the different insurers he contacted, though he must pick an insurer this week.
Maddening on an individual scale, this level of complexity, confusion and lack of accountability have hamstrung healthcare reform in the US for decades. Generally, the consumer pays the price. Insurers can create arcane rules that change frequently, and there is no requirement that their employees understand the rules. If no one understands the system, and the rules are trade secrets, how do you begin the process of reform? My Lalli says he has “never faced a more confounding reporting challenge”:
I’VE had a long career as a business journalist, beginning at Forbes and including eight years as the editor of Money, a personal finance magazine. But I’ve never faced a more confounding reporting challenge than the one I’m engaged in now: What will I pay next year for the pill that controls my blood cancer?
After making more than 70 phone calls to 16 organizations over the past few weeks, I’m still not totally sure what I will owe for my Revlimid, a derivative of thalidomide that is keeping my multiple myeloma in check. The drug is extremely expensive — about $11,000 retail for a four-week supply, $132,000 a year, $524 a pill. Time Warner, my former employer, has covered me for years under its SupplementaryMedicare Program, a plan for retirees that included a special Writers Guild benefit capping my out-of-pocket prescription costs at $1,000 a year. That out-of-pocket limit is scheduled to expire on Jan. 1. So what will my Revlimid cost me next year?
The answers I got ranged from $20 a month to $17,000 a year. One of the first people I phoned said that no matter what I heard, I wouldn’t know the cost until I filed a claim in January. Seventy phone calls later, that may still be the most reliable thing anyone has told me.
Like around 47 million other Medicare beneficiaries, I have until this Friday, Dec. 7, when open enrollment ends, to choose my 2013 Medicare coverage, either through traditional Medicare or a private insurer, as well as my drug coverage — or I will risk all sorts of complications and potential late penalties.
But if a seasoned personal-finance journalist can’t get a straight answer to a simple question, what chance do most people have of picking the right health insurance option?
A study published in the journal Health Affairs in October estimated that a mere 5.2 percent of Medicare Part D beneficiaries chose the cheapest coverage that met their needs. All in all, consumers appear to be wasting roughly $11 billion a year on their Part D coverage, partly, I think, because they don’t get reliable answers to straightforward questions…