Health Wonk Review: Hurricane Irene Edition


How could I not name this fortnight’s Health Wonk Review after Hurricane Irene? After all, health wonks are exactly like meteorologists. We are irrepressibly confident in our ability to comprehend complex phenomena. Our predictions are more frequently wrong than right. And there’s one other thing: despite the fact that unwise health policies, like inaccurate weather predictions, can lead to wanton destruction, our jobs are usually safe.

Ahh, it’s a good life, being a Health Wonk.

What else are hospitals up to?

John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis thinks that Kathleen Sebelius may finally be listening to him, “but she’s only understood half the message.” John’s idea is that providers should be allowed to re-package and re-price their services, to “make Medicare a better offer” than it mandates via its price-control system. That way, “doctors and hospitals would be encouraged to discover more efficient ways of providing care.” Sebelius has indicated that she will indeed allow providers to “perform heart surgery and other procedures for a lump sum…covering all aspects of the procedure and (like Priceline) name their own price! Medicare will accept the offer if taxpayers are likely to come out ahead on the deal.” Great, right? But there’s a catch: “Unfortunately, Medicare will dictate what the bundles look like. Providers will be able to re-price, but not repackage…ironically, repricing without repackaging could actually make things worse,” as Goodman goes on to explain. For example, Geisinger in Pennsylvania offers warranties on its heart surgeries, something that Medicare’s system perversely won’t allow, because it involves both re-pricing and re-packaging of services.

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