Friday, April 11, 2008

Some basic health-reform lessons

Paul Krugman's excellent op-ed yesterday -- Health Care Horror Stories - New York Times -- ought to be required reading across the country. There is plenty to debate about how to fix our health care system, and he's made it clear in past columns that he favors Hillary's universal-coverage-now over Obama's phased-in plan. And there is still debate (here and here) about whether the opening story in the column was accurately described out on the hustings by Hillary (and by Krugman, who repeats a version of it in his op-ed). But isn't it time for an end to the debate over whether our system is broke? Here are a few take-aways from his 700-word column:

1. Just because you have health insurance today don't assume that means you will have it tomorrow. Employers drop employee health plans when they become too expensive. Bankrupt employers aren't obligated to continue health insurance for retirees, regardless of previous bargained-for promises. Annual and life-time caps on benefits can wipe out future benefits. And plan coverage can be manipulated so that your particular needs are no longer covered.

2. The uninsured are charged more for their health care than the insured. The resulting bad credit and outstanding balances may limit future access to health care.

3. The emergency-room option that is virtually guaranteed by EMTALA and was touted by President Bush as a health-care safety net is no substitute for insurance coverage and access to primary and preventive care. Lots of people delay care until they have a "true emergency" -- they will still be billed for the care they receive, regardless of ability to pay. (In fact, even insured patients have good reason to postpone ER visits, unless they live in a state that requires managed care plans to pay for the ER services, even if there was no true emergency, as long as a reasonable layperson would have thought they had a medical emergency.

4. The lack of universal coverage that every other developed country seems to be able to afford isn't simply an "access" problem. People get sicker, stay sicker longer, and die as a result of care that is postponed or not sought when it could still be useful.
posted by tommayo, 3:59 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter