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The Buffett-Bezos-Dimon-Gawande insurance fail? A powerful policy lesson!

How Amazon, JPMorgan, and Berkshire Hathaway took on America’s health care system—and lost, Fortune, June 1, 2021, By Erika Fry

Was it a press release, or a declaration of war?

How else to explain the media and market frenzy that followed the announcement, issued on Jan. 30, 2018, that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase — three of the nation’s largest, most high-profile, and best-run companies, then with some $534 billion in revenues between them — were teaming up to take on the ever-more-expensive, ever-more-complex problem that is American health care.

To those who had toiled in the world of employer-sponsored health care for decades, trying but never really succeeding to come up with new ways to control costs and improve outcomes … the statement, from three powerful CEOs, was cause for celebration.

Five months in, the team announced another star would lead the venture: Atul Gawande, the surgeon and influential New Yorker writer whose clear-eyed analysis of America’s dysfunctional health care system had earned him the admiration of Barack Obama and Buffett. In March 2019, the venture finally got a name, Haven.

The project officially sputtered to an end earlier this year. Even with its star power, Haven couldn’t break the black box that is U.S. health care.

So, did Haven make a difference? Some argue the effort undermined progress by raising the obvious question: If they couldn’t do it, who can? In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of very large employers, 85% of top executives think government support will be necessary to control costs and provide coverage.

Gawande goes further and has recently argued that the employer-sponsored system can’t be fixed. Noting how many Americans lost their health insurance in a global pandemic, he said, “A job-based system is a broken system.”

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Comment by Don McCanne

I contend that the Haven health reform effort of Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos and Jamie Dimon, along with Atul Gawande, was a spectacular success, as an experiment in health policy. They proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the private sector is incapable of fixing our highly dysfunctional health care financing system. The only model that has shown promise is a single payer Medicare for All system. But you cannot set that up as an employer-sponsored system; it will have to be a public system for all the people.

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Public Insurers Provide Better Access, Financial Protection, & Satisfaction Than Private Insurers

Access to Care, Cost of Care, and Satisfaction With Care Among Adults With Private and Public Health Insurance in the US, JAMA Network Open, June 1, 2021, By Charlie M. Wray, Meena Khare, Salomeh Keyhani

Introduction: In the past decade, health insurance expansion has been a major aspect of health care reform in the US, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) increasing coverage to more than 20 million US adults.

We used the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to compare experiences related to access to care, costs of care, and satisfaction with care among the 5 major forms of health insurance coverage (private employer–sponsored insurance, private individually purchased insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Health Administration [VHA] or military coverage) after accounting for respondents’ underlying health.

Results: …Compared with those covered by Medicare, individuals with employer-sponsored insurance were less likely to report having a personal physician (odds ratio [OR], 0.52; 95% CI, 0.48-0.57) and were more likely to report instability in insurance coverage (OR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.30-1.83), difficulty seeing a physician because of costs (OR, 2.00; 95% CI, 1.77-2.27), not taking medication because of costs (OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.27-1.62), and having medical debt (OR, 2.92; 95% CI, 2.69-3.17). Compared with those covered by Medicare, individuals with employer-sponsored insurance were less satisfied with their care (OR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.56-0.64)…

Conclusions and Relevance: In this survey study, individuals with private insurance were more likely to report poor access to care, higher costs of care, and less satisfaction with care compared with individuals covered by publicly sponsored insurance programs. These findings suggest that public health insurance options may provide more cost-effective care than private options.

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Comment by Don McCanne

How many times do we have to say it? Public health insurance is designed to make health care accessible and affordable for the people. Private health insurance is designed to make a profit for the insurers. The policies used in the design of the various insurance products are selected on the basis of the desired results. Access to care, cost of care, and satisfaction with care are very important in the design of public insurance. In contrast, profits are of utmost importance in private insurance.

This study confirms that the private insurers will sacrifice access, cost, and satisfaction in order to increase profits. Patients have much higher access to care, financial protection, and satisfaction with public insurance. Shouldn’t we be demanding single payer Medicare for All so that we can all have what we want in health care, and so that we can free up the private insurers to engage in productive occupations that would be a greater benefit to society?