Thursday, June 27, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is faking it on healthcare, part 2

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I was deeply disappointment by Elizabeth Warren's response to a question about Medicare for All in last night's debate. In brief, she went all in for Bernie's bill and Bernie's short path.

Charles Gaba usefully contrasts Warren's response last night to her response to a  question from a union member worried about losing good private insurance in a March Town Hall. There, Warren expressed openness to an incremental path either to Medicare for all (lower case "all," given the multiple paths she name-checked) or to universal coverage with a role for private insurance preserved (temporarily or permanently).

I don't think it's wise for Warren to leave herself no wiggle room to pursue health reform short of Medicare for All.  Last night she didn't:
There are a lot of politicians who say, oh, it's just not possible, we just can't do it, have a lot of political reasons for this. What they're really telling you is they just won't fight for it. Well, health care is a basic human right, and I will fight for basic human rights...
Fight, yes, but pick your battles and their pacing. If Warren fights all-out for Medicare for All -- Bernie's bill, which eliminates all other forms of insurance within four years and would require at least a doubling of federal revenue -- what happens to all those other plans she's got? Is she going to "fight for" universal childcare and free public college and near-total student loan forgiveness and a wealth tax and a sweeping new corporate charter -- all while making an industry that accounts for 1/6 of the country's economy in one fell swoop? And all with a razor-thin Senate majority -- if she's lucky.

Warren is doubtless aware of the extent to a drive to remake healthcare would absorb all political capital -- hence her earlier touting of multiple paths to universal coverage. I doubt Warren would disagree with this well informed liberal realist:

Promising to fight for M4A might be tactically justifiable in a Democratic primary -- particularly for someone promising to fight moneyed special interests on all fronts and fighting Bernie Sanders for the left-end vote. But as in the past, Warren's diagnosis of what's wrong with U.S. healthcare is one-dimensional -- and disingenuous.
WARREN: So, yes. I'm with Bernie on Medicare for all. And let me tell you why. I spent a big chunk of my life studying why families go broke. And one of the number-one reasons is the cost of health care, medical bills. And that's not just for people who don't have insurance. It's for people who have insurance.

Look at the business model of an insurance company. It's to bring in as many dollars as they can in premiums and to pay out as few dollars as possible for your health care. That leaves families with rising premiums, rising copays, and fighting with insurance companies to try to get the health care that their doctors say that they and their children need. Medicare for all solves that problem.
She added in a later interjection:
...the insurance companies last year alone sucked $23 billion in profits out of the health care system, $23 billion. And that doesn't count the money that was paid to executives, the money that was spent lobbying Washington. We have a giant industry that wants our health care system to stay the way it is, because it's not working for families, but it's sure as heck working for them. It’s time for us to make families come first
$23 billion! American payers (federal and state government, employers, individuals) spend $3.5 trillion per year on healthcare. Insurers are certainly part of the systemic problem -- but mainly because they pay too much to providers in our divide-and-conquer payer system.  Medicare for All is as much anathema to hospitals and doctors as it is to insurers, as it would radically cut their payments rates. Warren knows this, but she never mentions providers' role in making healthcare ruinously expensive and a source of constant financial threat in Americans' lives.  As I noted after hearing Warren speak about healthcare in January 2018:
...she also presented the unaffordability of healthcare in the U.S., and the huge out-of-pocket costs that many insured Americans face, as purely a product of insurance industry rapine. Not a word about pricing-gouging by hospitals and doctors; the fine science of upcoding; the loopholes allowing self-dealing; the privileging of expensive procedures; the outsourcing to hedge fund- and private equity-backed price maximizers; the predatory balance billing. Providers got a total pass. I sentence Senator Warren to read Elisabeth Rosenthal's An American Sickness, which meticulously documents all these cost inflators and their evolution
I am a Warren admirer. I have heard her deliver her capsule diagnosis of American economic and social woes -- we sold our birthright for a mass of Reaganite pottage -- and I think all her many plans are designed (many if not all well-designed)  to undo galloping oligarchy. But on her policy piano, healthcare gets her left hand.

Warren is willing to take on banks and the tech giants -- and health insurers -- but healthcare providers are spared from her rhetorical fire. That won't make them any the less anxious to defeat her if she remains all-in on Medicare for All.

1 comment:

  1. Right you are on insurance companies. Almost all their profits come from Medicare Advantage....see the enclosed data from 2016....

    Warren feeds into the emotion that higher insurance premiums must be the fault of greedy carriers, and it cannot be the fault of the kindly doctors and hospitals.

    This is not to say that insurance companies do not do price gouging of their own when they can. The liability insurance market has plenty of insurer gouging.

    Also the small non-ACA carriers in the short term market do their own gouging.

    I remember once calling the MN Department of Insurance to complain about rate hikes on an LTC policy. I was connected to a state employee who actually had approved the increase. He said that the carrier in question was paying 120% in claims over premiums. That taught be to be cautious.