May 6, 2013

MEGAN MCARDLE ON HEALTH INSURANCE: How the Oregon Study Should Change Our Thinking.

I think that this would tell us something different: not that health care is bad, but that health insurance doesn’t actually improve access to necessary treatment that much. If someone else covers the cost, it can help with the financial burden of health care. But uninsured people will mostly find a way for the most important treatments, the ones we know improve health, from stitches to control bleeding, to antibiotics, to blood pressure medication. It’s the expensive stuff on the frontier–the stuff that’s as likely to be useless, or harmful, as it is to help–that the uninsured mostly forego.

A bunch of people sarcastically asked whether I was planning to drop my health insurance. The answer is no, because my employer pays for it. But if the question is “Has this caused you to revise downward your estimate of the value of health insurance?” the answer has to obviously be yes. Anyone who answers differently is looking deep into their intestinal loops, not the Oregon study. You don’t have to revise the estimate to zero, or even a low number. But if you’d asked folks before the results dropped what we’d expect to see if insurance made people a lot healthier, they’d have said “statistically significant improvement on basic markers for the most common chronic diseases. The fact that we didn’t see that means that we should now say that health insurance, or at least Medicaid, probably doesn’t make as big a difference in health as we thought.

Certainly, this bolsters my belief that health insurance should provide financial protection from catastrophic events, not wrap-around first-dollar coverage. Those who used to read me on The Atlantic may recall that the McArdle Plan for Healthcare involved the government picking up the tab for any medical expenses above 15-20% of income: simple, progressive, and aimed at the actual problem we know health insurance can fix. Unfortunaely, Obamacare made that sort of coverage functionally illegal.

Not enough opportunity for graft. Or control.