The prevalence of chronic illness and the expectation built up over decades of managed care that health plans should cover office visits with no or little out of pocket costs are combining to drive up America’s health care costs – and health insurance premiums. People are visiting physician offices more often and want their wallets protected from paying for those visits.
Case in point is California’s health benefit exchange, Covered California. Its benefit standards for participating high deductible health plans require them to offer low, set co-pays for office visits at $35 for primary care doctors and $70 for specialists. The goal, as Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee told the Los Angeles Times, is to take the sting out of high deductibles that require people to pay the full cost of an office visit until they are reached. “No patient I know wants to pay $2,500 to see the doctor,” Lee told The Times, referring to a $2,500 high deductible plan. But there’s no proverbial free lunch. There’s a tradeoff involved. More office visits equal greater utilization and administrative costs — which in turn lead to higher premiums.
The thinking here appears to be to avoiding creating an economic disincentive for people to see a physician in order to catch a health problem before it develops into a more serious, costly condition. For some people, that may apply. But not for all if not most. The great majority of people are blessed with the ability to maintain good health by leading healthy lifestyles that include adequate exercise, sleep and a healthy diet. Unlike motor vehicles that require regular maintenance to stay road worthy, human beings do not require ongoing preventative maintenance in a doctor’s office. If the current policy that health coverage is to be an insurance product – and all indications it will remain so for most working age Americans barring a collapse of employer-sponsored health benefits – that policy should treat it as insurance.
Insurance is for large, unexpected costs. It’s not for maintenance. That’s why most insurance policies exclude coverage for losses arising out of neglected maintenance. That’s why they won’t pay a claim for a roof collapse if the roof not properly reshingled or for a blown engine due to missed oil changes.
Health insurance isn’t really something that can be purchased. It’s something all people can give to themselves by respecting their ability to maintain their own health in order to avoid needing medical care. That’s true health maintenance. It can’t be legislated via public policy. It must become a widespread cultural ethic that respects it and the need for people to invest in their own health.
Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email