Summary: A striking vision for how to pay for health care in our country.
An Immodest Proposal
(for Excellent Financing of Our Health Care System)
From: A humble health economist
To: The U.S. public
Dear kind family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow citizens:
The health and happiness of our population being of the utmost importance, I make bold to propose to you that we establish a system to pay for health care in the United States of America. The means to achieve this grand goal must include a health care financing system of a most refined and ingenious nature. I have contemplated how to accomplish this, and herewith share my conclusions, which I hope and trust you will find quite compelling.
First, we must commit great resources to this noble undertaking. I propose one in five dollars of all economic activity, though I would settle at the moment for just 17-18%. Our dear neighbors of the north country and friends in Europe are too stingy, dedicating only 8-12% to this august mission. We ought gladly proffer high recompense for our fine curative consultations, potions, and surgeries.
Second, let us rejoice in diversity. Every citizen shall have a different assortment of health benefits, for certainly these varied benefits shall align magnificently with future medical and financial needs, however unpredictably they shall manifest. Varied services allowed, disparate access to doctors, and a joyous plethora of cost-sharing arrangements, including impressively large deductibles and robust cost-sharing.
Third, let us elevate choice. Ours is a free country, so each citizen (and approved non-citizen resident) shall be permitted, nay obligated, to choose among insurance purveyors and health plans. Some say, “Pick your poison”, but I say, “Exercise your free market rights!” Alas, selection of physician may be ever so slightly restrained by the untrammeled and wondrous choice of a restricted provider network. Individuals will understand and accommodate if the most able medical practitioner for a worrisome affliction happens to labor external to the designated provider panel.
Fourth, let us further magnify the spectacular granularity of everyday tasks, because complexity is life. Let each insurance plan have different rules and procedures for securing payment for doctors and hospitals, so that the insurers may devote many fine US dollars to administration. Likewise, the providers shall dedicate one dollar in eight to billing paperwork. Long live and prosper the accounting room, and the myriad financial clicks of the electronic health record.
Fifth, admire the prospect of home foreclosures, a true blessing to ease the housing crisis, as medical bills further impoverish the poor. Manifold thanks for lack of insurance, and uncovered and out-of-network services; 40% in medical debt and 500,000 medical bankruptcies each annum is good fortune that we may all celebrate.
Sixth, savor the frustration and exhaustion of physicians straining for hours daily to digitally inscribe copious billing information, for the subsequent burnout thins their excess ranks.
Seventh, cheer delayed diagnosis and treatment as pandemics encroach, and too the chaotic data of fragmented billing systems which prevent us from worrying ourselves with nasty facts about disease spread.
Eighth, let us revel in the shorter life span offered by this financing system, for life is brutal (most especially when we cannot afford to consult a doctor to ease our pains). The sooner over the better.
Ninth, praise the myriad ways in which our system specially affects the lives of the impecunious and visibly different, with less and worse insurance, inferior quality of care and outcomes, and earlier release from life’s painful bonds.
Tenth, glory be to profits and spectacular CEO salaries, for these reflect the soul of the American experience. Insurers, drug companies, and hospital systems shall garner at least 10% of all revenue to enrich the worthy and kindly shareholders. CEOs of non-profit hospitals shall rightfully earn $10 million per annum in salary and other well-deserved recompense.
Finally, let us embrace un- and under-insurance, for they are the means that enable the flourishing of this fine and perfect system. Yes, spending more than any other nation, infinitely varied health care benefits, choice of health plan constrained to a narrow network, complexity in our daily lives, foreclosed homes, burned out doctors, pandemics ignored, brutish lives ended early, the downtrodden slighted, and, best of all, burgeoning profits for the few – all are thanks to the worthy sacrifices of the not really well-insured.
James G. Kahn MD MPH
(apologies to Jonathan Swift)