Sunday, October 07, 2007

Passing the buck

Last month I was chosen to attend a "town hall" meeting at work. It was a chance to meet our new CEO, to find out the company's official corporate goals (executive summary: global domination), and to voice our questions and concerns.

Several employees voiced concerns about our terrible benefits package. We work for a ginormous health insurance conglomerate, and yet we get shafted by the insurance policies written by our own employer. It makes me sad when I have to quote benefits to a member whose plan is more reasonable than my own.

Our new CEO said that they are aware of employees' dissatisfaction with the benefits and that they were diligently working on something better in preparation for open enrollment season.

Well, open enrollment season is upon us, and guess what? Our benefit package is even worse. Mrs. Gerbil and I will see up to a 10% increase in our premiums, our already stratospheric deductible, some prescription co-pays, and our out-of-pocket maximum. The official reason for the increase is that it reflects "rising healthcare costs."

Now, I may be a cynic, but I happen to believe that a major factor in rising healthcare costs is insurance companies. Yes, they want to protect their profit margins. But think about it: advances in healthcare technology (including medicines, laboratory tests, and procedures) don't come without a price tag. Yet providers must accept very low reimbursement rates in order to participate in managed care networks. For example, I recently had standard prenatal bloodwork and (on account of my Ashkenazic heritage) some genetic testing. The lab charged my insurance company over $1000, but because they are a network provider, they'll be paid only about $300. Sucks to be them. But it also sucks to be the rest of us, because if the lab pressures the insurance company for a higher reimbursement rate, the insurance company will pass the increased cost along to the employers who buy their packages... who will then pass it along to employees in the form of higher premiums and/or crappier coverage.

There are, of course, other explanations for rising healthcare costs. This article from the Annals of Internal Medicine does a good job of outlining them. But in the end, I still think that the industry which currently pays our bills has created a fantastically self-perpetuating cycle of cost increases. So I'm all for socialized medicine--even if it means I'd have to find another job.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering: all that expensive labwork came back normal. Go little developing gerb!)

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