An American Universal Health Care System

Believe it or not, America boasts some of the world’s best doctors, the most advanced health care system, and the most technically superior resources in the world, bar none. Those who travel globally and have gotten sick know that their first choice for treatment would be in the U.S. Though health care in America is, more expensive than any other country, many of the worlds wealthiest come to the U.S for surgical procedures and complex care, because it holds a worldwide reputation for the gold standard in health care.

To examine the complex health care issue, a small research study was conducted from randomly selected doctors in a best doctors database. We ask 50 top doctors, located in different states and who practice different specialty fields, ” Is a universal health care plan good for America?” Forty-eight of these doctors essentially responded that it was a “bad idea” that would have negative impacts on the quality of our nation’s health care.

Social Engineering Medicine

One of the greatest mis-conceptions some people have relied on with regard to the health care debate is that, given a universal health care system, every person in the U.S. would receive the highest quality health care – the kind our nation is renowned for and that we currently receive. However, unlike some public amenities, health care is not a collective public service like police and fire protection services, therefore the Government cannot provide the same quality of health care to everyone, because not all physicians are equally good orthopedic surgeons, internists, neurosurgeons, etc, in the same way that not all individuals in need of health care are equally good patients.

As an analogy – stay with me – when you design a software program, there are many elements that are coded on the back-end, and used to manipulate certain aspects of the software program, that your average “John Doe” who uses the software (the end user) does not understand or utilize, nor do they care about these elements. Certain aspects of the program are coded, so that when one uses that portion of the program, other elements of the program are manipulated and automatically follow the present or next command.

Likewise, once a universal care plan is implemented in America and its massive infrastructure is shaped, private insurance companies will slowly disappear, and as a result, eventually patients will automatically be forced to utilize the government’s universal health care plan. As part of such a system, patients will be known as numbers rather than patients, because such a massive government program would provide compensation incentive based on care provided, patients would become “numbers,” rather than “patients.” In addition, for cost savings reasons, every bit of health information, including your own, will be analyzed, and stored by the Government. What are the consequences? If you’re a senior citizen and need a knee replacement at the age of 70, the government may determine that you’re to old and it’s not worth the investment cost, therefore instead of surgery, you may be given medication for the rest of your life at a substantial cost savings to the government, and at a high quality of life price to you.


Fixing the current U.S. health care system might require that we;

1. Encourage prevention and early diagnosis of chronic conditions and management.
2. Completely reform existing government are programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
3. Forgive medical school debt for those willing to practice primary care in under-served areas.
4. Improve access to care, provide small businesses and the self-employed with tax credits, not penalties for providing health care.
5. Encourage innovation in medical records management to reduce costs.
6. Require tort reform in medical malpractice judgments to lower the cost of providing care.
7. Keep what isn’t broken-research shows 80% of Americans are happy with their current insurance, therefore, why completely dismantle it?
8. Reimburse physicians for their services.
9. Innovate a system in which Medicare fraud is dramatically decreased.

Devil In the Details

Socialized medicine means:

1. Loss of private practice options, reduced pay for physicians, overwhelming numbers of patients, and increasing burn-out may reduce the number of doctors pursuing the profession.

2. Patient confidentiality will need to be compromised, since centralized health information will be maintained by the government and it’s databases.

3. Healthy people who take care of themselves will pay for the burden of those with unhealthy lifestyles, such as those who smoke, are obese, etc.

4. Patients lose the incentive to stay healthy or aren’t likely to take efforts to curb their prescription drug costs because health care is free and the system can easily be abused.

5. The U.S. Government will need to call the shots about important health decisions dictating what procedures are best for you, rather than those decisions being made by your doctor(s), which will result in poor individualized patient care.

6. Tax rates will rise substantially-universal health care is not free since citizens are required to pay for it in the form of taxes.

7. Your freedom of choice will be restricted as to which doctor is best for you and your family.

8. Like all public programs, government bureaucracy, even in the form of health care, does not promote healthy competition that reduces costs based on demand. What’s more, accountability is limited to the budgetary resources available to police such a system.

9. Medicare is subsidized by private insurers to the tune of billions of dollars, therefore if you take them out of the equation, add a trillion dollars or more to the current trillion dollar-plus cost estimates.

10. Currently, the government loses an estimated $ 30 billion a year due to Medicare fraud. Therefore, what makes anyone think that this same government will be able to run & operate a universal health care system that is resistant to fraud and save money while doing so?.

Hiring a Home Health Care Employee

Providing the primary care for an elder loved one can be difficult. When you cannot deliver all the elder care yourself and support from friends, family, and community organizations is not enough, it may be useful to hire a home health care worker. He or she can offer care from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day, and can provide many other helpful services. Types of in-home health care services include:

General Health Management like administration of medication or other medical treatments
Personal care such as bathing, oral hygiene, dressing, and shaving
Nutrition help like preparing meals, assisting eating, and grocery shopping
Homemaking services including laundry, dishwashing, and light housework
Companionship for example reading to the senior or taking them on walks

Recruiting and Interviewing Applicants

There are many avenues for hiring a home health care employee. Generally, home health care workers can be hired directly or through an agency. Home health care agencies often have a staff that includes social workers and nurses that will manage your care. However hiring an independent home health care worker is generally more cost effective, it will also give you more control over the type of care you receive.

Senior home care workers should be carefully screened for proper training, qualifications, and temperament. Fully discuss the needs of the elder care recipient during an interview with a prospective home health care employee. There should be a written copy the job description and the type of experience you are looking for.


Have applicants fill out an employment form that includes the following information:

Full name
Phone number
Date of birth
Social Security number
Educational background
Work history

Before hiring, you should ask to see the senior home care worker’s licenses and certificates, if applicable, and personal identification including their social security card, driver’s license, or photo ID.

References should be checked out thoroughly. Prospective employees should provide the employer with names, dates of employment, and phone numbers of previous employers and how to contact them. It is best to talk directly to previous employers, rather than just to accept letters of recommendations. Also ask the applicant to provide or sign off on conducting a criminal background check

Special Points to Consider

Make sure the person you are considering hiring knows how to carry out the tasks the elder care recipient requires, such as transferring the senior to and from a wheelchair or bed. Training may be available, but make sure the worker completes the training successfully before hiring him or her.

No one should be hired on a seven-day-a-week basis. Even the most dedicated employee will soon burn out. All employees need some time to take care of their personal needs. No worker should be on call 24-hours a day. If the elder care recipient needs frequent supervision or care during the night, a family member or second home health care worker should be able to help out or fill in.

Live-in assistance may seem to be more convenient and economic than hourly or per-day employees but there can be drawbacks. Food and lodging costs must be calculated into the total cost of care, and it could be difficult to dismiss someone without immediate housing alternatives. If you decide to utilize a live-in arrangement, the employee should have his own living quarters, free time, and ample sleep.

Job Expectations and Considerations

Before hiring a senior home health care worker, you should go over the tasks you expect them to perform and other issues, such as promptness, benefits, pay scale, holidays, vacations, absences, and notification time needed for either employer or employee before employment is terminated. If you work and are heavily dependent on the home health care worker, emphasize the importance of being informed as soon as possible if he or she is going to be late or absent so that you can make alternative arrangements. Be clear about notification needed for time off, or what to do in the case the home health care worker experiences a personal emergency that requires them to abruptly leave work. It is important to have a backup list of friends, family, other home care workers, or a home health care agency you can call on.

Be clear about issues concerning salary, payment schedule, and reimbursement or petty cash funds for out of pocket expenses.

You should spend the day with the home health care worker on his first day to make sure you are both in agreement over how to carry out daily tasks. It would also be helpful to supply the home health care worker with a list of information on the elder care recipient such as: special diets, likes, dislikes, mobility problems, health issues, danger signs to monitor, possible behavior problems and accompanying coping strategies, medication schedule, therapeutic exercises, eye glasses, dentures, and any prosthetics.

You should also provide the following information to your home health care worker: your contact information, emergency contacts, security precautions and access to keys, clothing, and locations of washing/cleaning supplies, medical supplies, light bulbs, flashlights, fuse box, and other important household items.


Another big consideration in hiring a senior home care worker is how he or she is going to get to work. If they do not have a reliable car or access to public transit, then you might want to consider hiring someone to drive him or her, which might be more economical than using taxis. Inform your insurance company if the home health care worker is going to drive your car when caring for the senior. Your insurance company will perform the necessary driving background checks. If the home health care worker is using his or her car to drive the elder care recipient, then discuss use of her or his car, and conduct a driving background check.

Insurance and Payroll

Check with an insurance company about the proper coverage for a worker in your home.

Make sure all the proper taxes are being drawn from the employee’s check by contacting the Internal Revenue Service, state treasury department, social security, and the labor department. If you do not want to deal with the complexities of the payroll withholdings yourself, than you can hire a payroll company for a fee.

Even if your home health care worker is working as a contractor, you are still obligated to report the earnings to the IRS. Talk to your accountant or financial adviser about making sure you are following IRS rules.

Ensuring Security

You should protect your private papers and valuables in a locked file cabinet, safe deposit box, or safe. If you are unable to pick up your mail on a daily basis, have someone you trust do it, or have it sent to a post box. You should check the phone bill for unusual items or unauthorized calls. You should put a block on your phone for 900 numbers, collect calls, and long-distance calls.

Keep checkbooks and credit cards locked up. Review credit card and bank statements on a monthly basis, and periodically request credit reports from credit reporting agencies. Lock up valuable possessions or keep an inventory of items accessible to people working in the house.

You can help to prevent elder abuse to your loved one by:

Make sure the home health care worker thoroughly understands his or her responsibilities, the elder care recipient’s medical problems and limitations, and how to cope with stressful situations.
Do not overburden the home health care worker.
Encourage openness over potential problems.

The following are possible signs of elder abuse or neglect:

Personality changes
Crying, whimpering, or refusing to talk
Sloppy appearance
Poor personal hygiene
Disorganized or dirty living conditions
Signs of inappropriate sedation, such as confusion, or excessive sleeping
Mysterious bruises, pressure sores, fractures, or burns
Weight loss

If you suspect abuse, act immediately. Do not wait until the situation turns tragic. Investigate the situation by talking to the elder care recipient in a safe situation, or install monitoring equipment. Examples of abusive behavior include yelling, threatening, or over controlling behavior that could involve isolating the senior from others. If the situation is serious, you should replace the home health care worker as quickly as possible. If you fear the elder care recipient is in danger, he or she should be separated from the home health care worker as soon as possible. Place the elder care recipient with a trusted relative or in a respite care facility. Make sure your loved one is safe before confronting the home health care worker, especially if there is concern about retaliation.

Report the situation to Adult Protective Services after ensuring the safety of the elder care recipient. The police should be contacted in the case of serious neglect, such as sexual abuse, physical injury, or misuse of funds.

Supervising a Home Health Care Worker

The most important thing to remember after hiring a home health care worker is to keep the lines of communication open. You should explain the job responsibilities clearly, and your responsibilities to the home health care worker. Do not forget that the home health care worker is there for the elder care recipient and not the rest of the family. For live-in arrangements, the maximum amount of privacy should be set up for the home health care worker’s living quarters. Meetings should be set up on a regular basis to assure that problems are nipped in the bud. If conflicts cannot be resolved after repeated attempts, than it is best to terminate the employee. In such a case, you may have to either place the elder care recipient in a nursing home temporarily or hire a home health care worker through an agency. Reserve funds should be kept on hand in the case of such an emergency.

General Eligibility Requirements for Home Care Benefits

Hiring a home health care worker directly is usually less expensive than hiring through a home health care agency; but if the elder care recipient is eligible and you wish to use assistance from Medicare, you must hire someone through a certified home health care agency. For the senior patient to be eligible, three or more services must be ordered by a physician. Other factors or eligibility are the required need for skilled nursing assistance, or one of the following therapies: physical, speech or occupational. The elder care recipient’s medical needs will determine asset and income requirements.

Hiring Home Health Care Workers through Home Health Care Agencies versus Independently

Different health professionals can assess the elder care recipient’s needs. A nurse or social worker can help with design and coordination of a home care plan. Your care manager, doctor, or discharge planner can help with services being covered by Medicare. They generally help make the arrangements with a home care agency.

You should ask the home health care agency how they supervise their employees, and what kind of training their employees receive. Find out the procedures for when an employee does not show up. Also ask about the fee schedule and what it covers, there may be a sliding fee schedule. Furthermore, find out if they have a policy for minimum or maximum hours. Ask the agency if there are any limitations on the types of tasks performed.

Health Care Fraud – The Perfect Storm

Today, health care fraud is all over the news. There undoubtedly is fraud in health care. The same is true for every business or endeavor touched by human hands, e.g. banking, credit, insurance, politics, etc. There is no question that health care providers who abuse their position and our trust to steal are a problem. So are those from other professions who do the same.

Why does health care fraud appear to get the ‘lions-share’ of attention? Could it be that it is the perfect vehicle to drive agendas for divergent groups where taxpayers, health care consumers and health care providers are dupes in a health care fraud shell-game operated with ‘sleight-of-hand’ precision?

Take a closer look and one finds this is no game-of-chance. Taxpayers, consumers and providers always lose because the problem with health care fraud is not just the fraud, but it is that our government and insurers use the fraud problem to further agendas while at the same time fail to be accountable and take responsibility for a fraud problem they facilitate and allow to flourish.

1. Astronomical Cost Estimates

What better way to report on fraud then to tout fraud cost estimates, e.g.

– “Fraud perpetrated against both public and private health plans costs between $72 and $220 billion annually, increasing the cost of medical care and health insurance and undermining public trust in our health care system… It is no longer a secret that fraud represents one of the fastest growing and most costly forms of crime in America today… We pay these costs as taxpayers and through higher health insurance premiums… We must be proactive in combating health care fraud and abuse… We must also ensure that law enforcement has the tools that it needs to deter, detect, and punish health care fraud.” [Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), 10/28/09 press release]

– The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that fraud in healthcare ranges from $60 billion to $600 billion per year – or anywhere between 3% and 10% of the $2 trillion health care budget. [Health Care Finance News reports, 10/2/09] The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

– The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) reports over $54 billion is stolen every year in scams designed to stick us and our insurance companies with fraudulent and illegal medical charges. [NHCAA, web-site] NHCAA was created and is funded by health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the reliability of the purported estimates is dubious at best. Insurers, state and federal agencies, and others may gather fraud data related to their own missions, where the kind, quality and volume of data compiled varies widely. David Hyman, professor of Law, University of Maryland, tells us that the widely-disseminated estimates of the incidence of health care fraud and abuse (assumed to be 10% of total spending) lacks any empirical foundation at all, the little we do know about health care fraud and abuse is dwarfed by what we don’t know and what we know that is not so. [The Cato Journal, 3/22/02]

2. Health Care Standards

The laws & rules governing health care – vary from state to state and from payor to payor – are extensive and very confusing for providers and others to understand as they are written in legalese and not plain speak.

Providers use specific codes to report conditions treated (ICD-9) and services rendered (CPT-4 and HCPCS). These codes are used when seeking compensation from payors for services rendered to patients. Although created to universally apply to facilitate accurate reporting to reflect providers’ services, many insurers instruct providers to report codes based on what the insurer’s computer editing programs recognize – not on what the provider rendered. Further, practice building consultants instruct providers on what codes to report to get paid – in some cases codes that do not accurately reflect the provider’s service.

Consumers know what services they receive from their doctor or other provider but may not have a clue as to what those billing codes or service descriptors mean on explanation of benefits received from insurers. This lack of understanding may result in consumers moving on without gaining clarification of what the codes mean, or may result in some believing they were improperly billed. The multitude of insurance plans available today, with varying levels of coverage, ad a wild card to the equation when services are denied for non-coverage – especially if it is Medicare that denotes non-covered services as not medically necessary.

3. Proactively addressing the health care fraud problem

The government and insurers do very little to proactively address the problem with tangible activities that will result in detecting inappropriate claims before they are paid. Indeed, payors of health care claims proclaim to operate a payment system based on trust that providers bill accurately for services rendered, as they can not review every claim before payment is made because the reimbursement system would shut down.

They claim to use sophisticated computer programs to look for errors and patterns in claims, have increased pre- and post-payment audits of selected providers to detect fraud, and have created consortiums and task forces consisting of law enforcers and insurance investigators to study the problem and share fraud information. However, this activity, for the most part, is dealing with activity after the claim is paid and has little bearing on the proactive detection of fraud.

4. Exorcise health care fraud with the creation of new laws

The government’s reports on the fraud problem are published in earnest in conjunction with efforts to reform our health care system, and our experience shows us that it ultimately results in the government introducing and enacting new laws – presuming new laws will result in more fraud detected, investigated and prosecuted – without establishing how new laws will accomplish this more effectively than existing laws that were not used to their full potential.

With such efforts in 1996, we got the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It was enacted by Congress to address insurance portability and accountability for patient privacy and health care fraud and abuse. HIPAA purportedly was to equip federal law enforcers and prosecutors with the tools to attack fraud, and resulted in the creation of a number of new health care fraud statutes, including: Health Care Fraud, Theft or Embezzlement in Health Care, Obstructing Criminal Investigation of Health Care, and False Statements Relating to Health Care Fraud Matters.

In 2009, the Health Care Fraud Enforcement Act appeared on the scene. This act has recently been introduced by Congress with promises that it will build on fraud prevention efforts and strengthen the governments’ capacity to investigate and prosecute waste, fraud and abuse in both government and private health insurance by sentencing increases; redefining health care fraud offense; improving whistleblower claims; creating common-sense mental state requirement for health care fraud offenses; and increasing funding in federal antifraud spending.

Undoubtedly, law enforcers and prosecutors MUST have the tools to effectively do their jobs. However, these actions alone, without inclusion of some tangible and significant before-the-claim-is-paid actions, will have little impact on reducing the occurrence of the problem.

What’s one person’s fraud (insurer alleging medically unnecessary services) is another person’s savior (provider administering tests to defend against potential lawsuits from legal sharks). Is tort reform a possibility from those pushing for health care reform? Unfortunately, it is not! Support for legislation placing new and onerous requirements on providers in the name of fighting fraud, however, does not appear to be a problem.

If Congress really wants to use its legislative powers to make a difference on the fraud problem they must think outside-the-box of what has already been done in some form or fashion. Focus on some front-end activity that deals with addressing the fraud before it happens. The following are illustrative of steps that could be taken in an effort to stem-the-tide on fraud and abuse:

– DEMAND all payors and providers, suppliers and others only use approved coding systems, where the codes are clearly defined for ALL to know and understand what the specific code means. Prohibit anyone from deviating from the defined meaning when reporting services rendered (providers, suppliers) and adjudicating claims for payment (payors and others). Make violations a strict liability issue.

– REQUIRE that all submitted claims to public and private insurers be signed or annotated in some fashion by the patient (or appropriate representative) affirming they received the reported and billed services. If such affirmation is not present claim isn’t paid. If the claim is later determined to be problematic investigators have the ability to talk with both the provider and the patient…

– REQUIRE that all claims-handlers (especially if they have authority to pay claims), consultants retained by insurers to assist on adjudicating claims, and fraud investigators be certified by a national accrediting company under the purview of the government to exhibit that they have the requisite understanding for recognizing health care fraud, and the knowledge to detect and investigate the fraud in health care claims. If such accreditation is not obtained, then neither the employee nor the consultant would be permitted to touch a health care claim or investigate suspected health care fraud.

– PROHIBIT public and private payors from asserting fraud on claims previously paid where it is established that the payor knew or should have known the claim was improper and should not have been paid. And, in those cases where fraud is established in paid claims any monies collected from providers and suppliers for overpayments be deposited into a national account to fund various fraud and abuse education programs for consumers, insurers, law enforcers, prosecutors, legislators and others; fund front-line investigators for state health care regulatory boards to investigate fraud in their respective jurisdictions; as well as funding other health care related activity.

– PROHIBIT insurers from raising premiums of policyholders based on estimates of the occurrence of fraud. Require insurers to establish a factual basis for purported losses attributed to fraud coupled with showing tangible proof of their efforts to detect and investigate fraud, as well as not paying fraudulent claims.

5. Insurers are victims of health care fraud

Insurers, as a regular course of business, offer reports on fraud to present themselves as victims of fraud by deviant providers and suppliers.

It is disingenuous for insurers to proclaim victim-status when they have the ability to review claims before they are paid, but choose not to because it would impact the flow of the reimbursement system that is under-staffed. Further, for years, insurers have operated within a culture where fraudulent claims were just a part of the cost of doing business. Then, because they were victims of the putative fraud, they pass these losses on to policyholders in the form of higher premiums (despite the duty and ability to review claims before they are paid). Do your premiums continue to rise?

Insurers make a ton of money, and under the cloak of fraud-fighting, are now keeping more of it by alleging fraud in claims to avoid paying legitimate claims, as well as going after monies paid on claims for services performed many years prior from providers too petrified to fight-back. Additionally, many insurers, believing a lack of responsiveness by law enforcers, file civil suits against providers and entities alleging fraud.

6. Increased investigations and prosecutions of health care fraud

Purportedly, the government (and insurers) have assigned more people to investigate fraud, are conducting more investigations, and are prosecuting more fraud offenders.

With the increase in the numbers of investigators, it is not uncommon for law enforcers assigned to work fraud cases to lack the knowledge and understanding for working these types of cases. It is also not uncommon that law enforcers from multiple agencies expend their investigative efforts and numerous man-hours by working on the same fraud case.

Law enforcers, especially at the federal level, may not actively investigate fraud cases unless they have the tacit approval of a prosecutor. Some law enforcers who do not want to work a case, no matter how good it may be, seek out a prosecutor for a declination on cases presented in the most negative light.

Health Care Regulatory Boards are often not seen as a viable member of the investigative team. Boards regularly investigate complaints of inappropriate conduct by licensees under their purview. The major consistency of these boards are licensed providers, typically in active practice, that have the pulse of what is going on in their state.

Insurers, at the insistence of state insurance regulators, created special investigative units to address suspicious claims to facilitate the payment of legitimate claims. Many insurers have recruited ex-law enforcers who have little or no experience on health care matters and/or nurses with no investigative experience to comprise these units.

Reliance is critical for establishing fraud, and often a major hindrance for law enforcers and prosecutors on moving fraud cases forward. Reliance refers to payors relying on information received from providers to be an accurate representation of what was provided in their determination to pay claims. Fraud issues arise when providers misrepresent material facts in submitted claims, e.g. services not rendered, misrepresenting the service provider, etc.

Increased fraud prosecutions and financial recoveries? In the various (federal) prosecutorial jurisdictions in the United States, there are differing loss- thresholds that must be exceeded before the (illegal) activity will be considered for prosecution, e.g. $200,000.00, $1 million. What does this tell fraudsters – steal up to a certain amount, stop and change jurisdictions?

In the end, the health care fraud shell-game is perfect for fringe care-givers and deviant providers and suppliers who jockey for unfettered-access to health care dollars from a payment system incapable or unwilling to employ necessary mechanisms to appropriately address fraud – on the front-end before the claims are paid! These deviant providers and suppliers know that every claim is not looked at before it is paid, and operate knowing that it is then impossible to detect, investigate and prosecute everyone who is committing fraud!

Lucky for us, there are countless experienced and dedicated professionals working in the trenches to combat fraud that persevere in the face of adversity, making a difference one claim/case at a time! These professionals include, but are not limited to: Providers of all disciplines; Regulatory Boards (Insurance and Health Care); Insurance Company Claims Handlers and Special Investigators; Local, State and Federal Law Enforcers; State and Federal Prosecutors; and others.

Health Care Reform – Busting The 3 Biggest Myths Of ObamaCare

In the last few months we’ve seen a lot of Health Care Reform rules and regulations being introduced by the Health and Human Services Department. Every time that happens, the media gets hold of it and all kinds of articles are written in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the TV network news programs talk about it. All the analysts start talking about the pros and cons, and what it means to businesses and individuals.

The problem with this is, many times one writer looked at the regulation, and wrote a piece about it. Then other writers start using pieces from that first article and rewriting parts to fit their article. By the time the information gets widely distributed, the actual regulations and rules get twisted and distorted, and what actually shows up in the media sometimes just doesn’t truly represent the reality of what the regulations say.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what is going on with ObamaCare, and one of the things that I’ve noticed in discussions with clients, is that there’s an underlying set of myths that people have picked up about health care reform that just aren’t true. But because of all they’ve heard in the media, people believe these myths are actually true.

Today we’re going to talk about three myths I hear most commonly. Not everybody believes these myths, but enough do, and others are unsure what to believe, so it warrants dispelling these myths now.

The first one is that health care reform only affects uninsured people. The second one is that Medicare benefits and the Medicare program isn’t going to be affected by health care reform. And then the last one is that health care reform is going to reduce the costs of healthcare.

Health Care Reform Only Affects Uninsured

Let’s look at the first myth about health care reform only affecting uninsured people. In a lot of the discussions I have with clients, there are several expressions they use: “I already have coverage, so I won’t be affected by ObamaCare,” or “I’ll just keep my grandfathered health insurance plan,” and the last one – and this one I can give them a little bit of leeway, because part of what they’re saying is true — is “I have group health insurance, so I won’t be affected by health care reform.”

Well, the reality is that health care reform is actually going to affect everybody. Starting in 2014, we’re going to have a whole new set of health plans, and those plans have very rich benefits with lots of extra features that the existing plans today don’t offer. So these new plans are going to be higher cost.

Health Care Reform’s Effect On People With Health Insurance

People that currently have health insurance are going to be transitioned into these new plans sometime in 2014. So the insured will be directly affected by this because the health plans they have today are going away, and they will be mapped into a new ObamaCare plan in 2014.

Health Care Reform Effect On The Uninsured

The uninsured have an additional issue in that if they don’t get health insurance in 2014, they face a mandate penalty. Some of the healthy uninsured are going to look at that penalty and say, “Well, the penalty is 1% of my adjusted gross income; I make $50,000, so I’ll pay a $500 penalty or $1,000 for health insurance. In that case I’ll just take the penalty.” But either way, they will be directly affected by health care reform. Through the mandate it affects the insured as well as the uninsured.

Health Care Reform Effect On People With Grandfathered Health Plans

People that have grandfathered health insurance plans are not going to be directly affected by health care reform. But because of the life cycle of their grandfathered health plan, it’s going to make those plans more costly as they discover that there are plans available now that they can easily transfer to that have a richer set of benefits that would be more beneficial for any chronic health issues they may have.

For people who stay in those grandfathered plans, the pool of subscribers in the plan are going to start to shrink, and as that happens, the cost of those grandfathered health insurance plans will increase even faster than they are now. Therefore, people in grandfathered health plans will also be impacted by ObamaCare.

Health Care Reform Effect On People With Group Health Insurance

The last one, the small group marketplace, is going to be the most notably affected by health care reform. Even though the health care reform regulations predominantly affect large and medium-sized companies, and companies that have 50 or more employees, smaller companies will also be affected, even though they’re exempt from ObamaCare itself.

What many surveys and polls are starting to show is that some of the businesses that have 10 or fewer employees are going to look seriously at their option to drop health insurance coverage altogether, and no longer have it as an expense of the company. Instead, they will have their employees get health insurance through the health insurance exchanges.

In fact, some of the carriers are now saying they anticipate that up to 50% of small groups with 10 or fewer employees are going to drop their health insurance plan sometime between 2014 and 2016. That will have a very large effect on all people who have group health insurance, especially if they’re in one of those small companies that drop health insurance coverage.

It’s not just uninsured that are going to be affected by health care reform, everybody is going to be impacted.

Health Care Reform Will Not Affect Medicare

The next myth was that health care reform would not affect Medicare. This one is kind of funny because right from the very get-go, the most notable cuts were specifically targeting the Medicare program. When you look at Medicare’s portion of the overall federal, you can see that in 1970, Medicare was 4% of the U.S. federal budget, and by 2011, it had grown to 16% of the federal budget.

If we look at it over the last 10 years, from 2002 to 2012, Medicare is the fastest growing part of the major entitlement programs in the federal government, and it’s grown by almost 70% during that period of time.

Because of how large Medicare is and how fast it’s growing, it’s one of the key programs that ObamaCare is trying to get a handle on, so it doesn’t bankrupts the U.S. Medicare is going to be impacted, and in fact the initial cuts to Medicare have already been set at about $716 billion.

Medicare Advantage Cuts And The Effects

Of that $716 billion cut, the Medicare Advantage program gets cut the most, and will see the bulk of the effects. What that’s going to do is increase the premiums people pay for their Medicare Advantage plans, and reduce the benefits of those plans.

Increased Medicare Advantage Costs

Right now, many people choose Medicare Advantage plans because they have zero premium. When given a choice on Medicare plans, they view it as an easy choice because it’s a free program for them, “Sure, I get Medicare benefits, I don’t pay anything for it; why not.” Now they’re going to see Medicare premiums start to climb, and go from zero to $70, $80, $90, $100. We’ve already seen that with some of the Blue Cross Medicare Advantage plans this year. It’s going to get worse as we go forward in the future.

Reduced Medicare Advantage Benefits

In order to minimize the premium increases, what many Medicare Advantage plans will do is increase the copayments, increase the deductibles, and change the co-insurance rates. In order to keep the premiums down, they’ll just push more of the costs onto the Medicare Advantage recipients. Increased premiums and reduced benefits are what we’re going to see coming in Medicare Advantage plan.

Fewer Medicare Physicians

And then if that wasn’t bad enough, as Medicare doctors begin receiving lower and lower reimbursements for Medicare Advantage people, they’re going to stop taking new Medicare Advantage recipients. We’re going to see the pool of doctors to support people in Medicare starting to shrink as well, unless changes are made over the course of the next five years. So Medicare is going to be affected, and it’s going to be affected dramatically by health care reform. Everybody’s kind of on pins and needles, waiting to see what’s going to happen there.

Health Care Reform Will Reduce Healthcare Costs

The last one, and probably the biggest myth about health care reform, is everybody thinking that ObamaCare will reduce healthcare costs. That’s completely hogwash. Early on in the process, when they were trying to come up with the rules and regulations, the emphasis and one of the goals for reform was to reduce healthcare costs.

But somewhere along the line, the goal actually shifted from cost reduction to regulation of the health insurance industry. Once they made that transition, they pushed cost reductions to the back burner. There are some small cost reduction components in ObamaCare, but the real emphasis is on regulating health insurance. The new plans, for example, have much richer benefits than many plans today: richer benefits means richer prices.

Health Care Reform Subsidies: Will They Make Plans Affordable?

A lot of people hope, “The subsidies are going to make health insurance plans more affordable, won’t they?” Yes, in some cases the subsidies will help to make the plans affordable for people. But if you make $1 too much, the affordable plans are suddenly going to become very expensive and can cost thousands of dollars more over the course of a year. Will a subsidy make it affordable or not affordable is really subject to debate at this point in time. We’re going to have to actually see what the rates look like for these plans.

New Health Care Reform Taxes Passed On To Consumers

Then there’s a whole ton of new health care reform taxes that have been added into the system to help pay for ObamaCare. That means everybody who has a health insurance plan, whether it’s in a large group, a small group, or just as an individual, is going to be taxed in order to pay for the cost of reform. Health care reform adds various taxes on health care that insurance companies will have to collect and pay, but they’re just going to pass it right through to us, the consumer.

Mandate Won’t Reduce Uninsured Very Much

During the initial years of health care reform, the mandate is actually pretty weak. The mandate says that everyone must get health insurance or pay a penalty (a tax). What that’s going to do is make healthy people just sit on the sidelines and wait for the mandate to get to the point where it finally forces them to buy health insurance. People with chronic health conditions that couldn’t get health insurance previously, are all going to jump into healthcare at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of that year, the cost for the plans is going to go up in 2015. I can guarantee that that’s going to happen, because the young healthy people are not going to be motivated to get into the plans. They won’t see the benefit of joining an expensive plan, whereas the chronically ill people are going to get into the plans and drive the costs up.

Health Care Reform’s Purpose Is Just A Matter Of Semantics

The last portion of this is, one of the key things – and it’s funny, I saw it for the first two years, 2010, and ’11 – one of the key things that was listed in the documentation from the Obama administration was: Health Care Reform would help reduce the cost that we would see in the future if we do nothing today. That was emphasized over and over again. That was how they presented health care cost reduction, that it would reduce the future costs. Not today, but it would reduce what we would pay in the future if we did nothing about it now.

Well, that’s great, 10 years from now we’re going to pay less than we might have paid. And we all know how accurate future projections usually are. In the meantime, we’re all paying more today, and we’re going to pay even more in 2014 and more in 2015 and 2016. People are going to be pretty upset about that.


Those three myths, that health care reform is only going to affect the uninsured, that it won’t affect Medicare beneficiaries, and that ObamaCare is going to reduce healthcare costs, are just that. They are myths. There’s nothing to them.

It’s really important that you pay attention to what’s happening with health care reform, because there are more changes that are coming as we go through this year, 2013. Knowing how to position yourself so that you’re in the right spot to be able to make the best decision at the beginning of 2014 is going to be really important for everybody.

Our Health Care System – An Insider’s View

Upon completing college back in the early 1970s, I worked for a large department store in NY in the accounting office. Working full time, naturally, I was afforded a company group insurance policy which included health benefits, along with dental, and life insurance. At that time there were no HMOs, nor were there any physicians that did not accept any legitimate health insurance plan. During my childhood, my parents always maintained insurance coverage on both me and my sister through Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NY. The insurance offered by my employer was also through Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NY. It was touted to be the best health insurance plan around at that time, and cost me personally nothing to enroll. The employer paid the entire premium in my behalf, and although it did have a yearly deductible, and then paid 80% up to a specified amount before paying 100%, being relatively healthy it posed no real economic hardship on me, and I was easily able to cover my deductible, and small out of pocket costs for any tests or prescriptions I may have needed.

It wasn’t until I relocated to southern California in the mid 1970s, that for the first time, I realized just how much our country needed to revamp its health care system. Perhaps revamp is a poor term for what I observed initially, but eventually it would become a very well suited term for what would be needed. Of course today what is needed is a complete overhaul of our health care system, and a program that will allow everyone affordable and good quality health care. However, intiially, the programs in place were very good, and very affordable to those who worked full time. There obviously weren’t as many small businesses out there, and even the ones that were, could at least afford some type of health care coverage for their families. While I was living in southern California I met and married a young woman who had been afflicted with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, and was on Social Security Disability and State Supplemental Income. In addition she had Medicare and Medi-Cal to help pay for her medical fees and services which she desperately needed to keep her alive, and functioning.

Even back then, it took almost an act of Congress to qualify for those programs, and you had to have a redetermination every two years to see if your conditions had improved. Every two years my wife was subjected to an independent medical exam with a Medicare approved physician who reviewed all her medical records for the previous two years, and examined her, and then reported his or her findings to the Social Security Administration for review with his or her recommendations. Although my wife’s condition was only getting worse, and other than short periods of remission where her disease was in check, she was basically declining, and it was obvious it should would never be cured, still she would continue to be subjected to these exams every two years until her death in 1988. In was during this period of time that I personally became involved in the health care field, and saw first hand just how insurance companies worked, at least when it came to health care.

In 1981, I obtained a position at a very well known Hospital and Health Care center in southern California. My job was that of a Patient Financial Counselor, which entailed the discussion with patients and/or their families either prior to admission, during admission or at discharge, in order to work out arrangements for payment of the unpaid portion of their hospital bills. In most cases the balance owing was anywhere from a few hundred dollars to couple of thousand dollars depending upon the procedure done and the amount of time actually spent in the hospital. If the patient was covered by a good private insurance carrier, it was usually only a few hundred dollars. In the case where they were covered by Medicare of Medi-Cal, they ofter owed nothing. If they were indigent, and had no insurance at all, we had a social worker on staff who would attempt to get them on some form of emergency medical assistance to help pay their debt in full. However, that would soon all change with the cut backs in Medicare, and other social programs during the course of the Regan Administration. By the mid to late 1980s, insurance carriers were demanding second opinions on certain procedures, and PPOs and HMOs began to spring up all over the country. It was the beginning of managed health care, which has its own pros and cons. The biggest advantage to the employers who provided these programs to their employees of course was the costs. Costs for PPOs and HMOs were much less expensive than the traditional health care plans, and saved the employer thousands of dollars per year in costs. It was the biggest selling point for them, but left many employees with less than adequate coverage.

If an employer for example opted for an HMO plan, the employees found themselves in many cases looking for a new doctor as their doctor wasn’t a part of the HMO plan. At least with the ones who lucked out with a PPO plan could still see their own doctors of choice. The insurance just didn’t pay as much as they would if the physician was enrolled in their plans. With the HMOs, you had to sign up for a primary care physician who had to be a participating physician in their plans, or they would not pay the doctor’s fees. In addition if you had to see a specialist, your primary care physician had to get an authorization from the insurance carrier for that visit. The same held true for many procedures you may need to have, and again it was up to the primary care physician to get prior authorization, or the patient was stuck with paying the entire bill. It was during this period that medical groups or clinics began to spring up all over the country, owned and operated by the HMOs. It was their attempt to control health care costs, and manage health care for its patients. Since the inception of HMOs there have been all types of lawsuits filed against the HMOs for wrongful deaths and for lack of necessary treatment for their patients, but still they are going strong.

The question I pose is, when does good health care offset the costs? If a doctor deems it necessary for a patient to undergo a long medical treatment plan to help save their lives, or to give them a better quality of life, costs should be of secondary concern, and the patient’s well being should be placed first. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Yes, I agree that there are people who abuse the system, and run to the nearest emergency room for every little ache and pain when they are covered by a public medical program such as Medicare and Medicaid, but what about the ones who truly do have a need for emergency services, and often have to wait hours to be seen because the emergency room is filled with non emergent cases simply because they know they cannot be turned away just because they have no insurance or public insurance programs. The publicly funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid need to start to review these non emergent cases, and refuse to pay for those services making the patient liable for any and all costs incurred for those visits.

In the 1990s, during the Clinton administration there was a push on for a complete overhaul of the health care system in this country. The concept behind the idea was to find a feasible way to offer affordable, good quality health care to all Americans, not just those who could easily afford it, or those who were already on publicly funded programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. Additionally, there was a proposal that would allow the insurance companies to receive government subsidies to offset the costs of insuring those who were considered to be high risk, or chronic patients. Several models were investigated, and in an effort to destroy any hope of resolving this issue, lobbyists and special interest groups claimed that it would be a form of socialized medicine and costs taxpayers billions of dollars, and would not necessarily offer better quality health care. In the end the only positive thing that came out of the whole deboggle, was guaranteed health care for children, and the allowing of either parent to take time off from work after a child’s birth without fear of losing their job or seniority. Even the bill which affords health care for children needs additional funding and has been lacking due to political pressure and budget restraints over the past several years.

In recent years we have been so concerned about fighting terrorism around the world, and our military and political efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan at the cost of billions of dollars, that the overhaul and reconstruction of America’s health care system has been put on the back burner. Even with a Democratically controlled Congress, the health care system has not gained any further support, nor has it been placed on anyone’s priority list. Only in recent months with the primary elections has the question of providing affordable health care for all Americans once again resurfaced and been placed on the candidates priority lists. There is no question in this author’s mind that something has to be done to protect Americans from the high costs of health care, and the ability to receive good quality health care services no matter what the persons financial situation. I am not proposing a socialized medical system, nor am I in favor of allowing non citizens to have free participation in any such system devised. However, for those hard working Americans who hold down jobs and pay their taxes, and especially those with families, need some type of guarantee, that they can obtain good quality health care when they need it, and at an affordable price.

No one wants to see people dying or not enjoying a good quality of life just simply because they cannot afford to see a physician when they really need to, or afford their medication that keeps them alive or in good health. However, we cannot afford to keep going the way we are just because we are a free enterprise system and allow for competition between businesses. While the health care industry is a business, just as with public utilities, the government does put controls on prices and price increases, and perhaps a similar program with the health care industry would work the same way. I just have a hard time swallowing the fact that we have billions of tax dollars to spend overseas on wars we can’t win, or have no reason to be involved in, other than the stuffing of someone’s pocket, yet we cannot provide affordable quality health care for our own citizens here at home. While this may be just my opinion, I think that there are many Americans out there who feel the same way, but believe that we are in the minority, and that no one in Washington, is really listening to us. Perhaps this next national election will show the bureaucrats in Washington that this is not the case, and really send a message to our political leaders that it is time for a real change.

The Increasing Surge of Health Care

While sitting back in her blue jeans and wearing a heavy workout sweater at the Legacy Emanuel Hospital’s Emergency room, Angela Jones has her feet prompted up and crossed atop of a small table. When asked about health care issues and how they affect her, Angela explains that there is a portion of people who suffer from not having health care insurance. She makes it clear that some of those who suffer most are young people. Jones, who is a college student, declared her passion for the young because it falls under her own age group.

Says Jones, “The Oregon Health Plan should be open to more people who are under 21 years old. Private insurance shouldn’t be so expensive for young people.”

According to national surveys, the primary reason people are uninsured is the high cost of health insurance coverage. Notwithstanding, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of the uninsured reported changing their way of life significantly in order to pay medical bills. Economists have discovered that increasing health care costs correlate to drops in health insurance coverage.

Jones believes that some of the greatest challenges that people face across this nation is obtaining affordable health care. “I would open an Oregon Health Plan to a variety of people who don’t have insurance. It is hard to get health insurance.”

Terri Heer, a registered nurse at a local hospital, claims that in order to improve America’s health care system a key ingredient is to “make sure that everyone (has) access.”

This would include cutting out on expenses that are not palpable to so called “health care needs”. Heer says, “First, we spend a lot of money servicing people for illnesses that can be prevented. Some of the money spent can go to other things.”

Over the long haul, should the nations health care system undergo significant changes, the typical patient may not necessarily see the improvements firsthand. “I would love to say there will be a lot of changes. I am not a pessimist, but I don’t think there will be any change,” says Heer. Heer does allude to the fact that if more money were spent for people in the health care arena, she says that there is a possibility that the necessary changes would be more evident.

Whether health care is affordable or not is an issue that affects everyone. According to a recent study last year, health care spending in the United States reached $2.3 trillion, and is projected to reach $3 trillion by 2011. By 2016, it is projected to reach $4.2 trillion. Although it is estimated that nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured, the U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation.

The rising tide of health care stems from several factors that has an affect on us all. First, there is an intensity of services in the U.S. health care system that has undergone a dramatic change when you consider that people are living longer coupled with greater chronic illnesses.

Secondly, prescription drugs and technology have gone through significant changes. The fact that major drugs and technological advancement has been a contributing factor for the increase in health care spending. Some analysts suggest that the improvement of state-of-art technologies and drugs increase health care spending. This increase not only attributes to the high-tech inventions, but also because consumer demand for these products has gone through the roof, so to speak.

Thirdly, there is an aging of the population. Since the baby boomers have reached their middle years, there is a tremendous need to take care of them. This trend will continue as baby boomers will qualify for more Medicare in 2011.

Lastly, there is the factor of administrative costs. Some would argue that the private sector plays a critical role in the rise of health care costs and the economic increase they produce in overhead costs. At the same time, 7 percent of health care expenses are a result of administrative costs. This would include aspects of billing and marketing.

Terra Lincoln is a woman who was found waiting in the Emergency room at the Providence Portland Medical Center. When asked about the rising costs of health care, she said, “If you don’t have medical coverage, it’ll cost you too much money. If I leave the hospital right now and I need to buy two (types) of medicines, I couldn’t afford it.” Lincoln says that she is a member of the OHP, but she believes that there are still issues that need to be addressed.

Terra recognizes that to reduce medical costs, she would have to start by getting regular checkups. “Sometimes people of color wait till they’re in pain before they get a checkup,” she said.

A national survey shows that the primary reason why people cannot afford health care is because of soaring costs of health care coverage. In a recent Wall-Street Journal-NBC survey it is reported that 50% of the American public claims that their highest and most significant economic concern is health care. Consequently, the rising cost of health care is the number one concern for Democratic voters.

Regarding the rising tide of health care, Kristin Venderbush, a native Wisconsin, and another patient in emergency at Providence says, “I worry a lot about what happens to the working poor. They don’t have OHP. If you can’t advocate for yourself, you will not get the health care you need…on every level.”

Harvard University researchers conducted a recent study that discovered that the out-of-pocket medical debt for an average consumer who filed bankruptcy was $12,000. This study noted that 68 percent of those who had filed for bankruptcy carried health insurance. Apparently, these bankruptcy’s were results from medical expenses. It was also noted in this study that every 30 seconds someone files for bankruptcy after they have had some type of serious health problem.

In spite of all the social and economic bureaucracy in the health care arena, some changes were made in Washington on January 28, 2008. In his State of the Union address, President Bush made inquired Congress to eliminate the unfair bias of the tax code against people who do not get their health care from their employer. Millions would then have more options that were not previously available and health care would be more accessible for people who could not afford it.

Consequently, the President believes that the Federal government can make health care more affordable and available for those who need it most. Some sources suggest that the President not only wants health care to be available for people, but also for patients and their private physicians so that they will be free to make choices as well. One of the main purposes for the health care agenda is to insure that consumers will not only have the freedom to make choices, but to also enable those to make decisions that will best meet their health care needs.

Kerry Weems, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, oversees the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as SCHIP. This is a critical program because it pays for the health care of more than six and a half million children who come from homes that cannot afford adequate health insurance. These homes exceed the pay scale for Medicaid programs, therefore are not able to participate.

During SCHIP’s ten year span, states have used the program to assist families with low-income and uninsured children for their sense of well-being in the health care arena. The Bush Administration believes that states should do more of an effort to provide for the neediest children and enable them to get insurance immediately. The SCHIP was originally intended to cover children who had family incomes ranging from $20,650. This amount would typically include a family of four. According to sources, all states throughout the U.S. have SCHIP programs in place and just over six million children are served.

Who’s Paying For Health Care?

America spent 17.3% of its gross domestic product on health care in 2009 (1). If you break that down on an individual level, we spend $7,129 per person each year on health care…more than any other country in the world (2). With 17 cents of every dollar Americans spent keeping our country healthy, it’s no wonder the government is determined to reform the system. Despite the overwhelming attention health care is getting in the media, we know very little about where that money comes from or how it makes its way into the system (and rightfully so…the way we pay for health care is insanely complex, to say the least). This convoluted system is the unfortunate result of a series of programs that attempt to control spending layered on top of one another. What follows is a systematic attempt to peel away those layers, helping you become an informed health care consumer and an incontrovertible debater when discussing “Health Care Reform.”

Who’s paying the bill?

The “bill payers” fall into three distinct buckets: individuals paying out-of-pocket, private insurance companies, and the government. We can look at these payors in two different ways: 1) How much do they pay and 2) How many people do they pay for?

The majority of individuals in America are insured by private insurance companies via their employers, followed second by the government. These two sources of payment combined account for close to 80% of the funding for health care. The “Out-of-Pocket” payers fall into the uninsured as they have chosen to carry the risk of medical expense independently. When we look at the amount of money each of these groups spends on health care annually, the pie shifts dramatically.

The government currently pays for 46% of national health care expenditures. How is that possible? This will make much more sense when we examine each of the payors individually.

Understanding the Payors


A select portion of the population chooses to carry the risk of medical expenses themselves rather than buying into an insurance plan. This group tends to be younger and healthier than insured patients and, as such, accesses medical care much less frequently. Because this group has to pay for all incurred costs, they also tend to be much more discriminating in how they access the system. The result is that patients (now more appropriately termed “consumers”) comparison shop for tests and elective procedures and wait longer before seeking medical attention. The payment method for this group is simple: the doctors and hospitals charge set fees for their services and the patient pays that amount directly to the doctor/hospital.

Private Insurance

This is where the whole system gets a lot more complicated. Private insurance is purchased either individually or is provided by employers (most people get it through their employer as we mentioned). When it comes to private insurance, there are two main types: Fee-for-Service insurers and Managed Care insurers. These two groups approach paying for care very differently.


This group makes it relatively simple (believe it or not). The employer or individual buys a health plan from a private insurance company with a defined set of benefits. This benefit package will also have what is called a deductible (an amount the patient/individual must pay for their health care services before their insurance pays anything). Once the deductible amount is met, the health plan pays the fees for services provided throughout the health care system. Often, they will pay a maximum fee for a service (say $100 for an x-ray). The plan will require the individual to pay a copayment (a sharing of the cost between the health plan and the individual). A typical industry standard is an 80/20 split of the payment, so in the case of the $100 x-ray, the health plan would pay $80 and the patient would pay $20…remember those annoying medical bills stating your insurance did not cover all the charges? This is where they come from. Another downside of this model is that health care providers are both financially incentivized and legally bound to perform more tests and procedures as they are paid additional fees for each of these or are held legally accountable for not ordering the tests when things go wrong (called “CYA or “Cover You’re A**” medicine). If ordering more tests provided you with more legal protection and more compensation, wouldn’t you order anything justifiable? Can we say misalignment of incentives?

Managed Care:

Now it gets crazy. Managed care insurers pay for care while also “managing” the care they pay for (very clever name, right). Managed care is defined as “a set of techniques used by or on behalf of purchasers of health care benefits to manage health care costs by influencing patient care decision making through case-by-case assessments of the appropriateness of care prior to its provision” (2). Yep, insurers make medical decisions on your behalf (sound as scary to you as it does to us?). The original idea was driven by a desire by employers, insurance companies, and the public to control soaring health care costs. Doesn’t seem to be working quite yet. Managed care groups either provide medical care directly or contract with a select group of health care providers. These insurers are further subdivided based on their own personal management styles. You may be familiar with many of these sub-types as you’ve had to choose between then when selecting your insurance.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) / Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO):This is the closet managed care gets to the Fee-for-Service model with many of the same characteristics as a Fee-for-Service plan like deductibles and copayments. PPO’s & EPO’s contract with a set list of providers (we’re all familiar with these lists) with whom they have negotiated set (read discounted) fees for care. Yes, individual doctors have to charge less for their services if they want to see patients with these insurance plans. An EPO has a smaller and more strictly regulated list of physicians than a PPO but are otherwise the same. PPO’s control costs by requiring preauthorization for many services and second opinions for major procedures. All of this aside, many consumers feel that they have the greatest amount of autonomy and flexibility with PPO’s.
Health Management Organization (HMO): HMO’s combine insurance with health care delivery. This model will not have deductibles but will have copayments. In an HMO, the organization hires doctors to provide care and either builds its own hospital or contracts for the services of a hospital within the community. In this model the doctor works for the insurance provider directly (aka a Staff Model HMO). Kaiser Permanente is an example of a very large HMO that we’ve heard mentioned frequently during the recent debates. Since the company paying the bill is also providing the care, HMO’s heavily emphasize preventive medicine and primary care (enter the Kaiser “Thrive” campaign). The healthier you are, the more money the HMO saves. The HMO’s emphasis on keeping patients healthy is commendable as this is the only model to do so, however, with complex, lifelong, or advanced diseases, they are incentivized to provide the minimum amount of care necessary to reduce costs. It is with these conditions that we hear the horror stories of insufficient care. This being said, physicians in HMO settings continue to practice medicine as they feel is needed to best care for their patients despite the incentives to reduce costs inherent in the system (recall that physicians are often salaried in HMO’s and have no incentive to order more or less tests).

The Government

The U.S. Government pays for health care in a variety of ways depending on whom they are paying for. The government, through a number of different programs, provides insurance to individuals over 65 years of age, people of any age with permanent kidney failure, certain disabled people under 65, the military, military veterans, federal employees, children of low-income families, and, most interestingly, prisoners. It also has the same characteristics as a Fee-for-Service plan, with deductibles and copayments. As you would imagine, the majority of these populations are very expensive to cover medically. While the government only insures 28% of the American population, they are paying for 46% of all care provided. The populations covered by the government are amongst the sickest and most medically needy in America resulting in this discrepancy between number of individuals insured and cost of care.

The largest and most well-known government programs are Medicare and Medicaid. Let’s take a look at these individually:


The Medicare program currently covers 42.5 million Americans. To qualify for Medicare you must meet one of the following criteria:

Over 65 years of age
Permanent kidney failure
Meet certain disability requirements

So you meet the criteria…what do you get? Medicare comes in 4 parts (Part A-D), some of which are free and some of which you have to pay for. You’ve probably heard of the various parts over the years thanks to CNN (remember the commotion about the Part D drug benefits during the Bush administration?) but we’ll give you a quick refresher just in case.

Part A (Hospital Insurance): This part of Medicare is free and covers any inpatient and outpatient hospital care the patient may need (only for a set number of days, however, with the added bonus of copayments and deductibles…apparently there really is no such thing as a free lunch).
Part B (Medical Insurance): This part, which you must purchase, covers physicians’ services, and selected other health care services and supplies that are not covered by Part A. What does it cost? The Part B premium for 2009 ranged from $96.40 to $308.30 per month depending on your household income.
Part C (Managed Care): This part, called Medicare Advantage, is a private insurance plan that provides all of the coverage provided in Parts A and B and must cover medically necessary services. Part C replaces Parts A & B. All private insurers that want to provide Part C coverage must meet certain criteria set forth by the government. Your care will also be managed much like the HMO plans previously discussed.
Part D (Prescription Drug Plans): Part D covers prescription drugs and costs $20 to $40 per month for those who chose to enroll.

Ok, now how does Medicare pay for everything? Hospitals are paid predetermined amounts of money per admission or per outpatient procedure for services provided to Medicare patients. These predetermined amounts are based upon over 470 diagnosis-related groups (DRGs) or Ambulatory Payment Classifications (APC’s) rather than the actual cost of the care rendered (interesting way to peg hospital reimbursement…especially when the Harvard economist who developed the DRG system openly disagrees with its use for this purpose). The cherry on top of the irrational reimbursement system is that the amount of money assigned to each DRG is not the same for each hospital. Totally logical (can you sense our sarcasm?). The figure is based on a formula that takes into account the type of service, the type of hospital, and the location of the hospital. This may sound logical but often times this system fails.


Medicaid is a jointly funded (funded by both federal and state governments) health insurance program for low-income families. Eligibility rules vary from state to state and factors in age, pregnancy, disability, income and resources. Poverty alone does not qualify an individual for Medicaid (there is currently no government-provided insurance for the American poor…despite the fact that almost all first world countries have such a system…enter the current health care debate) but is a significant factor in Medicaid eligibility. Each state operates its own Medicaid program but must adhere to certain federal guidelines to receive matching federal funds (you may be familiar with California’s MediCal, Massachusetts’ MassHealth and Oregon’s Oregon Health Plan due to their recent media coverage). Medicaid payments currently assist nearly 60 percent of all nursing home residents and about 37 percent of all childbirths in the United States.

How are the bills paid?

We now understand who is paying the bill but we have yet to cover how those bills are paid. There are two broad divisions of arrangements for paying for and delivering health care: fee-for-service care and prepaid care.


As we mentioned briefly while discussing PPO’s, in a fee-for-service structure, consumers select a provider, receive care (a.k.a. “service”) from the provider, and incur expenses (a.k.a. “a fee”) for the care. Deductibles and copayments are also required as previously discussed. Pretty simple. The physician is then reimbursed for their services in part by the insurer (i.e. a private insurance company or the government) and in part by the patient, who is responsible for the balance unpaid by the insurer (the return of the unanticipated medical bill despite your overpriced insurance). Again, the major downfall of the fee-for-service approach is that medical professionals are incentivized to provide services (and by this we mean any and all services they can legally request or must request to be protected legally), some of which may be nonessential, to increase their revenue and/or “C.Y.A.” (revenue that has steadily decreased as insurance companies continue to lower the amount they pay medical professionals for their services).

Fee Schedule

A fee schedule operates in the same way that Fee-for-Service does with one exception: instead of using the “usual, customary, and reasonable” amount to reimburse medical professionals, states set fees to be paid for specific procedures and services. The reimbursement is very low ($.10-.15 on the dollar) and barely covers the actual direct cost of providing the care. Physicians may chose to opt into the plan or not (starting to see why a doctor might not be so excited about this plan?). Would you sign up to be paid 10 cents for every dollar you charged for your work? Try the insurance reimbursement approach next time you go out to eat. We’ll come bail you out of the Big House if things go awry. What happens when the insurance system does this? You get the Wal-Mart approach to medicine (high volume, low quality). Not the kind of heath care we recommend.


Pre-paid health care? Like a phone card? Not exactly–but close. The pre-paid system evolved out of the insurance company’s desire to share its risk ( a.k.a “pooled risk”) with health care providers. Essentially, they wanted the doctors to have some skin in the game. In the pre-paid system, insurers make arrangements with health care providers to provide agreed-upon covered health care services to a given population of consumers for a (usually discounted) set price-the per-person premium fee-over a particular time period. What does that mean? It means that Dr. Bob gets paid, say, $30 per month to take care of Joe the Plumber including his blood work and x-rays. If Dr. Bob spends less than that caring for Joe, he makes money. If Joe is sick every month and needs lots of tests and follow-up visits, Dr. Bob could lose money caring for Joe. The set monthly fee paid to the doctor for taking care of a patient is set up on a per-member, per-month (PMPM) rate called a “capitated fee.” The provider receives the capitated fee per enrollee regardless of whether the enrollee uses health care services and regardless of the quality of services provided (not a good thing in our book). Theoretically, providers should become more prudent and subsequently provide services in a more cost effective manner because they are bearing some of the risk. Often times, however, less care is provided than is needed in hopes of saving money and increasing profits. In addition, physicians are incentivized to cherry pick the youngest and healthiest patients because these patients typically require less care (i.e. they are cheaper to keep healthy). We like that doctors are encouraged to keep patients healthy but we have to worry about the ways in which they are being encouraged to reduce costs (as little care as possible?). Again, the incentive system falls short and encourages providers to act unethically.

The Take Home Message:

Health Care in the United States today is complex and messy at best. The layers on top of layers of failed attempts to correct the system continue to encourage the wrong behavior in both patients (out of fear of medical bills) and providers (out of fear of bankruptcy). We have yet to provide every American citizen with medical care (something that goes without saying in most 1st World countries…even Cuba has it!). We spend more money on caring for our citizens than any country in the world yet we continue to lag behind in terms of national health outcomes. We think it’s safe to say that we’re not getting the best bang for our buck. The ultimate solution? We wish we knew. Only time will tell where the system goes from here. Our goal: to help you better understand the system as it stands today in hopes of developing a more effective, efficient, and comprehensive system for the future.

Universal Health Care

Some of the other countries which offer Universal Health care include Australia, France, and Italy. Virtually every industrialized nation currently offers some type of Universal Health care except for the United States. While the definition of Universal Health care largely remains the same, the actual structure of this system will vary from one country to another. The system also varies in terms of how much the government is involved. For example, while some nations allow private doctors to offer their services, other countries do not. In the United Kingdon, doctors can choose to offer services which are outside the government system, but Canada has more restrictions on their medical services.

It is important for readers to realize that Universal Health care is a very wide concept. There are a number of ways in which such a system can be utilized. However, the most basic factor in implementation involves the process of allowing all the citizens within a nation to be given access to health care for an affordable rate. Because implementing such a system requires a large amount of money, many governments tax their citizens in order to fund it. The government also decides how the care must be administered, and who is allowed to receive certain types of care. While many countries use taxation to fund this health care system, the patient may still be required to pay a relatively small fee as well.

Because the Universal Health care system has worked so well in many countries, some citizens and politicians in the United States have proposed the introduction of such a system in their own country. American proponents of Universal Health care are quick to point at the rising cost of commercial insurance as evidence that Universal Healthcare would work. Indeed, the cost of health insurance in the United States has become so high that millions of Americans go without health insurance each year, and should they become sick or injured, the cost of medical care could cause them to go into bankruptcy.

Proponents of Universal Health care argue that the utilization of their system would make it more affordable for all Americans to afford healthcare, and millions would not need to go without medical insurance. While the United States does not currently have a Universal Health care system, the government does provide health care for certain segments of the population, such as veterans, the disabled, senior citizens, or those currently serving in the military.

However, it is important to note that Universal Health care is not without its opponents. Those who oppose Univeral Health care often raise questions as to who would pay the most in taxes for such a system. These people argue that depending on the rate of taxes to be charged, many of the same people who currently can’t afford medical insurance would be hard pressed to pay taxes for a Universal Healthcare system. If the taxes are too high, they argue, then the rich would suffer the largest tax burden, but this is the very same group that is the least likely to need Universal Health care in the first place, since they can afford to pay for private health care.

Many high income American citizens are opposed to Universal Healthcare because they feel they will be forced to pay for something they personally don’t need. In addition to paying for their private medical insurance, they would then have to pay taxes for Universal Health care, a service they would not likely use. Opponents of Universal Health care also argue that there are Constitutional issues that come into play. They argue that the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that any powers not granted to the American government in the Constitution must be decided by the states.

Opponents therefore argue that the 10th Amendment demonstrates that only the U.S. states have the power to decide on the issue of Universal Health care, not the Federal government. However, proponents of Universal Health care counter this by saying that the system has worked successfully in other industrialized nations, and if it works there, it can work in the United States as well. One thing that is certain is that there are strong arguments on both sides of the fence, and only time will tell which side is correct. It should also be noted that about 15% of U.S. GDP goes toward health care payments, and this is the highest of any country on the planet.

It should also be noted that over 80% of the U.S. population already has some form of medical care, whether through their job, the government, or a private company. This has led some opponents of Universal Health care to claim that such a system isn’t needed, since only a small percentage of the U.S. population doesn’t have health insurance. However, proponents argue that while 80% of Americans may have some form of coverage, the 20% who don’t is too much. When you consider the fact that 20% of the U.S. population would be around 60 million people who don’t have coverage, it becomes hard to argue with this point.