Joe Jarvis is a doctor and a candidate for the Utah legislature. I was very interested in exploring the six steps to bring about true health-care reform in Utah that he outlined in the Salt Lake Tribune. He has been kind enough to answer some of my questions and I want to share what I have learned from him and from digging into his sources.
Every critically ill or injured person will be treated in our health system whether they have health insurance or not.
The realization that doctors and hospitals are obligated under the law to treat people in need should really change the way we look at the issue of universal coverage and the underwriting process. It deserves to be one of the areas we look at to make fundamental change to improve our health care system.
Unsafe hospital practices
Another cause of inefficiency in the system. Dr. Jarvis pointed me to studies by the Institute of Medicine demonstrating the statistical results of accidents and poor industry practices. (I say statistical to make it clear that the above link does not lead to grotesque images of hospital injuries.)
Inappropriate care seems to be the symbol of all that is wrong with our system. It appears to be a direct result of a medical industry that is being controlled by the insurance industry which is more interested in avoiding legal repercussions than in keeping people healthy
Dr. Jarvis quoted an article from the Wall Street Journal on April 5. I was unable to find that article to confirm the numbers he quoted (“if everyone in America went to the Mayo Clinic, our annual health-care bill would be 25 percent lower (more than $500 billion) and the average quality of care would improve.”) I did find an article from April 7th in the Wall Street Journal, More Choices Drive Cost of Health Care, that appeared to be the same except that it had different numbers ($50 billion saved over 5 years). (Follow the link here to see more than the free preview.) While I could not verify the numbers he quoted, the concept that we must eliminate the perverse incentives that drive the health care system is sound.
Market-based health policy
Dr. Jarvis argues that “health care is not subject to market forces, such as a lowered price increasing demand. No one ever had an appendectomy because the price was right. The occurrence of illness and injury primarily determine demand for health services.” While I would agree with him in the case of an appendectomy there are services (lasik, orthodontics, or well child checkups for example) where demand will rise as prices fall. Besides that, the WSJ article cited above indicates that many people, fueled by a “more is better” attitude, will indulge in available health services that are unnecessary. This would probably not be the case if they had to pay more than a token amount for those extra procedures. Also, at times when the patient is not the driving force behind extra procedures the findings are that
More office visits, hospital stays and diagnostic procedures likely indicate poor coordination among doctors and facilities that can lead to worse care and outcomes.
So far I am not convinced that real market forces do not have a significant role to play in radically improving our health care system.
I had never previously considered the cost associated with claim denials, but Dr. Jarvis provided some eye opening data. In his article he stated that “Claims costs are at least 10 percent higher in Utah than would be optimally efficient.” He was gracious enough to allow me to look through the data he used to arrive at that figure and answer my questions to help me understand what I was seeing.
Here’s what I learned; the claims cost is the percentage of the insurance company’s revenue that is spent in evaluating and denying claims – it does not count the cost of claims paid, just the cost of processing the claims. The 10% figure is a bit misleading. Let me try to clarify the numbers. The most efficient insurance provider in Utah is apparently the Public Employees Health Plan (PEHP) which spends nearly 4% of revenue in processing claims. The data from the other major health insurance providers (IHC, Blue Cross, Altius, and UHC) shows that they spend between 12% and 19% of revenue on the processing of claims. To put that in perspective, PEHP spends 1 of every 25 dollars in claims processing while the other providers spend between 1 in 8 and 1 in 5 dollars. That is 3 to 5 times higher than optimal. It is a difference of 10% of their revenue but it is not evidence that they spend 1.1 times the optimal amount on claims processing.
Even where I do not fully agree with the details of Dr. Jarvis’ claims about these six steps I do agree that all six of these steps are important issues to address if we are to come up with a decent approach to improving health care in our state. I also agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Jarvis that the system requires a major overhaul, not just some tinkering if we are to avoid the looming crisis in the health care system.