The real price of US healthcare

There’s a new paper published at Health Affairs which gives the final lie to the general thrust of Irish Government health policy. The heart of the actual policy is the maximization of private health care. The huge expansion of private health care, largely funded by tax breaks, has succeeded. We now have a big private sector, which, according to the CEO of the VHI, “has excess capacity [which] it will take a few years to be utilised. We do not need any more new hospitals. I don’t think we can fund it. I can’t see the business rationale for me as procurer of services to add to that capacity. It doesn’t make sense for us and we are entitled as a procurer who we contract with. Our view is that there needs to be a two- to three-year moratorium on expansion or new facilities.” (Sunday Tribune September 5th).

One might fairly object that this is not stated policy. Stated policy is [still!] the 2001 ‘Quality and Fairness, a health system for you’. However, this is not being implemented, or at least, not so as you would notice, so I prefer to stick with what actually gets done.

So, what are the likely consequences of these policies? Well, the problems of private health care are quite well understood. There’s fair evidence, from other countries, of failures in cost-control, shifting of risks, and costs, to the public sector, and fragmentation of care. The basic inequities in our system are well established. These policies will likely make the problems worse.

There;s new data from the US, published on the 7th. which is very relevant to this discussion. Muenig and Glied examine US 15 year survival data for middle-aged and older people, to answer the question “Is the US health system at least partly to blame for this deterioration in international rankings for life expectancy and medical costs? Or can the declines be better explained by statistical, demographic, behavioral, and social factors?” The short answer, is yes, for the longer answer read the paper.

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