Tag Archive: Insurance Industry

May 03 2013

Medical Bankruptcy in the US Even With Insurance

In the United States, 62% of all bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical bills. It is not among who you would think but most often effects middle aged, middle class, college educated homeowners. 80% of those people had health insurance, so why are they filing for bankruptcy? No other industrial country has this problem.

Our fellow blogger, lambert, writing for naked capitalism, featured this video from Real News Network:

Paul Jay of the Real News Network interviews Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician from Baltimore who advocates for a national single payer health system, Medicare for all, and Kevin Zeese, co-director of It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy.

At his blog, Corrente, lambert continues to document the atrocities of the Obamacare ClusterFuck.

Mar 08 2013

Health Care Costs: The Hard To Swallow Pill

Journalist Steve Brill wrote brilliant cover story for Time magazine, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, which lays out the reason US health care costs are out of control, just follow the money. He explains how the hospitals and their executives are scamming the system through billing to maximize profits. As an examples of the absurd charges, for a 15 cent Tylenol tablet hospitals charge as much as $1.50, $6 for a marker used to mark the body before surgery and as much as $77 for each of four boxes of gauze used. In hospital a patient can be charges as much as $450 for an electrocardiogram that in a doctor’s office would only cost $150.

This doesn’t happen in other countries where costs are controlled by government set rates for what both private and public plans can charge for various procedures. The problem here in the US isn’t that we don’t have single payer, it’s that the government doesn’t regulate the prices that health-care providers can charge. But in an article at the Washington Post by Sarah Kliff for the Wonkblog writes that we don’t need to look to other countries:

Maryland has succeeded in controlling costs for about four decades now. It is the only state that sets rates for hospitals, with the state government deciding what every Maryland hospital can charge for a given procedure..

That system started in 1976, when Maryland had hospital costs 26 percent higher than the rest of the the country. In 2008, the average cost for a hospital admission in Maryland was down to national levels. “From 1997 through 2008, Maryland hospitals experienced the lowest cumulative growth in cost per adjusted admission of any state in the nation,” the state concluded in a 2010 report (pdf).

Here is a brief summery of the article and what you should know about why health care in this country costs so much (and it isn’t malpractice lawsuits, as some would have you believe):

  • Hospitals arbitrarily set prices based on a mysterious internal list known as the “chargemaster.” These prices vary from hospital to hospital and are often ten times the actual cost of an item. Insurance companies and Medicare pay discounted prices, but don’t have enough leverage to bring fees down anywhere close to actual costs. While other countries restrain drug prices, in the United States federal law actually restricts the single biggest buyer-Medicare-from even trying to negotiate the price of drugs.
  • Tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals are the most profitable businesses and largest employers in their regions, often presided over by the most richly compensated executives.
  • Cancer treatment – at some of the most renowned centers such as Sloan-Kettering and M.D. Anderson – has some of the industry’s highest profit margins. Cancer drugs in particular are hugely profitable. For example, Sloan-Kettering charges $4615 for a immune-deficiency drug named Flebogamma. Medicare cuts Sloan-Kettering’s charge to $2123, still way above what the hospital paid for it, an estimated $1400.
  • Patients can hire medical billing advocates who help people read their bills and try to reduce them. “The hospitals all know the bills are fiction, or at least only a place to start the discussion, so you bargain with them,” says Katalin Goencz, a former appeals coordinator in a hospital billing department who now works as an advocate in Stamford, CT.

    Recently, Mr Brill sat down with Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish  and Neera Tanden from Center for American Progress to discuss how the rising health care costs are killing Americans:

       And it actually that bears on the conversation we’re having, because a chunk of that money is paid by Medicare. Medicare is I point out in the article is very efficient at most things. It buys health care really efficiently, which is a great irony, because it’s supposed to be the big government of bureaucracy.

       Where Medicare is not efficient is where Congress, because of lobbyists have handcuffed Medicare. Medicare can’t negotiate what it pays for any kind of drugs. It can’t negotiate what it pays for wheelchairs, diabetes testing equipment. And if Congress took those handcuffs off of Medicare, you could get about half of the spending cuts that we’re sitting around here talking about.

    Raising the eligibility age and/or applying a means test as ways to reduce the cost of Medicare will not fix the rising costs. Only government regulation of the hospitals and the ability of Medicare to negotiate pricing for procedures, equipment and supplies will cut the cost for the patient and the tax payers. Take the profit motive out of saving lives and keeping Americans healthy.

    Feb 27 2013

    The Extraordinary Cost of Health Care

    In an a cover story  for Time magazine, journalist Steven Brill spent seven months examining how medical bills are what is really killing us: the extraordinary costs of health care is a “bitter pill”  that nickels and dimes even the insured patient for every pill, band-aid and blanket:

    Simple lab work done during a few days in the hospital can cost more than a car. A trip to the emergency room for chest pains that turn out to be indigestion brings a bill that can exceed the price of a semester at college. When we debate health care policy in America, we seem to jump right to the issue of who should pay the bills, blowing past what should be the first question: Why exactly are the bills so high? [..]

    · Hospitals arbitrarily set prices based on a mysterious internal list known as the “chargemaster.” These prices vary from hospital to hospital and are often ten times the actual cost of an item. Insurance companies and Medicare pay discounted prices, but don’t have enough leverage to bring fees down anywhere close to actual costs. While other countries restrain drug prices, in the United States federal law actually restricts the single biggest buyer-Medicare-from even trying to negotiate the price of drugs.

    · Tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals are the most profitable businesses and largest employers in their regions, often presided over by the most richly compensated executives.

    · Cancer treatment-at some of the most renowned centers such as Sloan-Kettering and M.D. Anderson-has some of the industry’s highest profit margins. Cancer drugs in particular are hugely profitable. For example, Sloan-Kettering charges $4615 for a immune-deficiency drug named Flebogamma. Medicare cuts Sloan-Kettering’s charge to $2123, still way above what the hospital paid for it, an estimated $1400.

    · Patients can hire medical billing advocates who help people read their bills and try to reduce them. “The hospitals all know the bills are fiction, or at least only a place to start the discussion, so you bargain with them,” says Katalin Goencz, a former appeals coordinator in a hospital billing department who now works as an advocate in Stamford, CT.

    Mr. Brill was a guest on MSNBC’s “The Last Word“, he discussed with guest host Ezra Klein the costs of health care, who’s to blame and how we can fix the US broken health care system:

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    Dec 28 2012

    Government’s Revolving Door

    In a recent on air essay on his PBS program, Moyers & Company and an opinion piece at Huffington Post, Bill Moyers took a look at the revolving door of special interest groups and their lobbyists, how they win and the rest of us lose.

    Washington’s Revolving Door Is Hazardous to Our Health

    We’ve seen how Washington insiders write the rules of politics and the economy to protect powerful special interests but now, as we enter the holiday season, and a month or so after the election, we’re getting a refresher course in just how that inside game is played, gifts and all. In this round, Santa doesn’t come down the chimney — he simply squeezes his jolly old self through the revolving door. [..]

    The last time we looked, 34 former staff members of Senator Baucus, whose finance committee has life and death power over the industry’s wish list, were registered lobbyists, more than a third of them working on health care issues in the private sector. And the revolving door spins ever faster after a big election like the one we had last month, as score of officials, elected representatives and their staffs vacate their offices after the ballots are counted. Many of them head for K Street and the highest bidder. [..]

    Reforms were passed that are supposed to slow down the revolving door, increase transparency and limit the contact ex-officials and officeholders can have with their former colleagues. But those rules and regulations have loopholes big enough for Santa and his sleigh to drive through, reindeer included. The market keeps growing for insiders poised to make a killing when they leave government to help their new bosses get what they want from government. That’s the great thing about the revolving door: one good turn deserves another.

    The door continues to spin with the latest exodus from Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). DSWright at FDL‘s News Desk has the latest:

    Step right up and Spin the Revolving Door – and what is your prize? Why, a nice job on Wall Street working for the people you used to regulate – you wrote in the loopholes, now you get the cash for exploiting them! [..]

    Many Americans understood that the Dodd-Frank “reforms” were mostly worthless. They will not prevent another crisis or another massive TARP type bailout as the law did absolutely nothing about Too Big To Fail banks (which have actually gotten bigger).

    This should not have been a surprise given one of the law’s namesakes, Senator Chris Dodd, was caught red handed getting special loans from perhaps the worst offender in irresponsible mortgage origination – Countrywide. Senator Dodd barely survived an ethics investigation from his similarly compromised colleagues.

    But what critics may not have understood was that Dodd-Frank was apparently a jobs program for politically connected staffers.

    The last count of lobbyists, as of October, directly involved in advising the president, a member of his cabinet or campaign staff is 55.