Los Angeles Times’ Campaign for Government Health Care

Lisa Girion and Michael A. Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times have relieved themselves of a feature-focus of three stories about how awful private health plans are. They managed to interview key leaders of the campaign for government-mandated health insurance, such as Bruce Bodaken of Blue Shield of California and George Halvorson of Kaiser Permanente, without bothering to track down even one advocate of individual choice in health care.

Part 1 was a tirade against private health insurance, especially individually purchased. It completely ignores the state’s role in messing up people’s ability to buy affordable health plans with guaranteed renewable premiums. As usual, Girion & Hiltzik spread anecdotes thickly, and ignore scholarly evidence by Mark Pauly of University of Pennsylvania, which shows that people with individual coverage are less likely to lose health insurance after a serious illness than those with group coverage (which I’ve reviewed here).

Part 3 was a tirade against how health plans pay providers, also replete with anecdotes from – you guessed it – doctors and hospitals complaining about how hard it is to get paid these days. They ignore the fact that payers are spending more on claims now than ever. (See, for example, McKinsey Global Institute’s report last year.) And that hospitals in California are quite profitable, overall (as I’ve discussed here).

But I can’t spend all day re-iterating all the facts that Girion & Hiltzik choose to ignore: they are familiar to anyone who invests a little bit of time acquainting himself with PRI’s health policy research (or that of other fine think tanks).

So, I’ll focus on the good news in Part 2, which reports that health insurers want to get into the Health Savings Account (HSA) business as banks. No, the LA Times doesn’t get this right, either, believing that bank accounts are more profitable than health insurance (which is an interesting take on the issue, given that they’ve dedicated two other stories to how profitable health insurance is, because they think that all the carriers do is drop patients once they get sick and don’t bother to pay providers even if a patient is covered).

I have been concerned that the growth of consumer-driven plans is limited by the fact (as I understand it) that most carriers pay brokers a commission based on premium, not the number of people covered. Therefore, a broker doesn’t show a group a high-deductible (low premium) policy until the group is about to drop coverage altogether.

So, if health insurers do have banking subsidiaries which offer Health Savings Accounts alongside the carriers’ health insurers, they should be able to figure out ways to minimize this conflict of interest, which will result in even faster uptake of consumer-driven plans.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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