Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Notes from Vermont

The Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office released a report estimating the savings made possible by Single Payer. They estimate it will save between 0.8 and 3.5 billion between 2014 and 2019. To put those numbers in perspective, at the high end it would save more in six years on a per person basis then the much ballyhooed “super committee” is trying to cut in ten.

There’s also plenty of grist to back up my suspicions that people who advocate for Single Payer don’t really know what they’re talking about. The most common narrative advocating Single Payer runs along the line of “If we just get rid of the insurers, there will be tons of money and everyone will be happy.” Helpfully, Vermont breaks out their savings into some detail:

The low estimate shows about a third of savings coming from admin including both the payer (insurance) and provider (doctor) sides. More then half the savings come from clinical reform, which addresses how much doctors get paid, in what manner (capitation vs. fee for service), and improvements to public health and reduced utilization. The location of the "fat" is even more apparent in the high estimate:

So if Single Payer works the way people want it to, more then 75% of savings come from medical reform, not admin. And unsurprisingly, this is really hard. The paper discusses some of the issues confronted just to construct credible estimates. For example,
Each of these [payment reforms] has its own set of difficulties. For example, what is the right price to pay for a medical service? Is it the amount it costs to produce? Is it the amount at which an adequate provider supply is available? Is it the amount someone without insurance would be willing to pay for it (and who – Bill Gates or someone working at a minimum wage job)? Finally, is it the amount we as a society can afford to pay?
Implementing Single Payer involves all kinds of questions about what care should be delivered and what should be paid for it. In my view to answer those questions is to sell the program. How likely are people to buy into single payer if they don't know what they are getting? Instead advocates rely on a false narrative that reinforces a mythical conception of cost-free healthcare, one that ensures that even if the public does buy into single payer they will be unwilling to accept the compromises necessary for it to actually work.

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