Free Healthcare IT Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Get all the latest Health IT updates from Neil Versel for FREE!

Say what?

I generally try to stay apolitical on this blog and in my writing, but I got an unbelievably shocking e-mail from the Cato Institute this week: “Join the Anti-Universal Coverage Club!” said the subject line, exclamation point included.

According to the e-mail, and these words are verbatim:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To achieve “universal coverage” would require either having the government provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it. Government provision is undesirable, because government generally does a poor job of improving quality or affordability. Forcing people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government intervention.
  3. In a free society, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize, they should be free to experiment with cash subsidies, vouchers, insurance coverage, public clinics & hospitals, uncompensated care payments, and tax exemptions, rather than be forced by a policy of “universal coverage” to subsidize people via “insurance.”

The first point certainly is valid. Wide availability of quality certainly is a worthy goal. But does it mean availability to everyone who wants it?

The other points all raise questions, such as, if government intervention in healthcare is so bad, why is Medicare so sacrosanct in U.S. policy-making and why is the Veterans Health Administration held in such high esteem?

Sure, some people may lose the right to refuse health insurance under certain proposals, but that likely will end up varying state-by-state, similar to automobile insurance laws. (Here in Illinois, people have the right to refuse to wear helmets while riding motorcycles, but is that really such a great idea?)

I’m guessing that this Cato e-mail was prompted by two things: the push for universal coverage in key states like Massachusetts and California and the release of the movie “Sicko.” Well, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the closing keynote address to the annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans the week before last, and he was warmly received since private health plans stand to benefit greatly from his flavor of universal coverage.

As for “Sicko,” the rumored appearance of Michael Moore at the AHIP meeting never materialized, but the filmmaker’s presence certainly was felt. The impending release of the movie was on the minds of a lot of attendees, and I heard an AHIP media representative on the phone, giving an impassioned defense of private insurance to an out-of-town reporter. (At the time, the film hadn’t been released, and nobody I know had seen anything more than the trailers.) Further, AHIP CEO Karen Ignani had an op-ed in USA Today last Friday, the day of the movie’s release.

I haven’t seen the movie myself yet, but I have noticed that the debate so far has delivered a deafening silence in the areas of quality and efficiency. How can any discussion of healthcare reform forget such important points?

July 2, 2007 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Michael Moore at AHIP meeting?

LAS VEGAS—In the sweltering June desert heat (dry heat, sure, but 104 degrees is still 104 degrees) comes a wonderfly not dry—OK, let’s call it juicy—rumor. Filmmaker Michael Moore, he of the forthcoming cinematic indictment of American healthcare called “Sicko”, may make an appearance Thursday or Friday at the annual America’s Health Insurance Plans meeting.

When I heard this, I immediately thought of the film that first put Moore on the map, 1989’s “Roger & Me”, in which the portly Michigander pursues then-General Motors boss Roger Smith before finally confronting Smith at the company’s annual meeting. As a GM shareholder at the time, Moore was entitled to attend—except he brought a camera crew and pointedly asked Smith why GM pulled so many high-paying factory jobs from Moore’s decaying hometown of Flint, Mich.

If, in fact, Moore does show up here at the AHIP meeting, I seriously doubt he’ll get a chance to confront AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni in front of the gathered audience. I picture more of a staged demonstration on the posh grounds of the convention site, the Wynn Las Vegas, with an entourage of sick Americans allegedly denied care by insurance companies. Whatever it might be, I expect great theater. I’ll have my camera handy just in case.

Why do I suspect there’s something to the rumor? Aside from Moore’s history of high-profile publicity stunts, his name was mentioned in Wednesday’s performance of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Wynn. Perhaps he was in the audience? Perhaps that’s just a regular part of the lyrics? I dunno, I’d never seen the show before. But I highly recommend it. (And now by mentioning it, my ticket becomes a deductible business expense. Same thing if I go see “Sicko.”)

Even if Moore doesn’t show, a bona fide movie star will be part of the official program. AHIP has confirmed that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will speak at Friday’s closing session.

Meanwhile, I became the butt of a joke on Wednesday. During a session on consumer-directed health plans, panelist David Harris of PricewaterhouseCoopers noted how many parties, from consumers to providers to banks to health insurers themselves, don’t quite understand exactly how high-deductible health plans and HSAs are supposed to work. Harris noted how early adopters of the automobile a century ago tended to get into a lot of accidents because they weren’t quite sure how to operate those newfangled horseless carriages.

During the Q&A portion of the session, I commented how I have an HSA from a bank that didn’t offer an HSA debit card for more than a year after I first opened my account, suggesting that the bank jumped in without fully planning its strategy. (I was writing checks at the pharmacy.) I also mentioned my experience in getting a free injection from a P.A. who didn’t think it was worth the time to check the price of the service.

“You’re an accident,” Harris jokingly said. One of the other panelists suggested my employer didn’t do much homework before offering the consumer-directed plan. I then said I was self-employed, to much laughter.

So there you have it: What happens in Vegas … eventually ends up on the Internet.

June 20, 2007 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.