Republicans point out that Medicare has tried to control costs centrally for decades with terrible results. They argue that a decentralized process of trial and error will work better, as long as the underlying incentives are right. They suggest replacing the fee-for-service with a premium support system. Seniors would select from a menu of insurance plans. Their consumer choices would drive a continual, bottom-up process of innovation. Providers could use local knowledge to meet specific circumstances.
* Medicare has lower overhead costs – approximately 5% for Medicare and 8.9% for private insurance. Once you factor profits, commissions, and premium taxes in, private insurance overhead goes up to 16.7%
* Medicare has controlled costs better than the private system. From 1970 to 2000, annual per enrollee costs went up 9.7% for Medicare and 11.1% for private insurance.
* Medicare Advantage plans, which are Medicare plans run by private insurers, cost the government 14% more than traditional government-provided Medicare
The fact is, there is no dispositive empirical proof about which method is best — the centralized technocratic one or the decentralized market-based one. Politicians wave studies, but they’re really just reflecting their overall worldviews. Democrats have much greater faith in centralized expertise. Republicans (at least the most honest among them) believe that the world is too complicated, knowledge is too imperfect. They have much greater faith in the decentralized discovery process of the market…
Moreover, if 15 Washington-based experts [Brooks is referring to the Indpendent Patient Advisory Board, established to rate effectiveness of treatements - ed] really can save a system as vast as Medicare through a process of top-down control, then this will be the only realm of human endeavor where that sort of engineering actually works.
Why is this brilliant? Most ordinary pundits (those without space on the Times op-ed page) use the more common device of citing studies on both sides to show that there is support for both sides. But this is rookie league stuff. Brooks shows how it’s really done: just dismiss the entire attempt at empirical support with a wave of the hand, which lets you get back to “philosophy.” It’s much easier to know nothing than to know something.But for this question, we don’t even need to go to the academic studies. We already have a health care system where people “select from a menu of insurance plans. Their consumer choices would drive a continual, bottom-up process of innovation. Providers could use local knowledge to meet specific circumstances.” It’s called the individual market, there are tens of millions of people in it, and it’s a complete failure. It leaves tens of millions of people uninsured, and to those who are insured, it delivers mediocre care at high costs. The only way you can ignore this fact is by pretending that facts don’t matter…Um, David, there’s this country to north of us. It’s called Canada. They have a national health insurance system that covers everybody. And that system . . . Whom am I kidding? When you don’t have respect for facts, a few more aren’t going to change your mind.
O.E.C.D. data show that Americans pay vastly more for health care than the residents of any other major country.
In 2008, we paid 16 percent of G.D.P. in total health care costs, public and private combined. The people with the next heaviest health care burden were the French, who paid 11.2 percent of G.D.P. Indeed, at 7.4 percent of G.D.P., the governmental share of health spending in the United States is about the same as total health care costs in many other countries, including (as a percentage of G.D.P.) Luxembourg (6.8 percent), Israel (7.8 percent), Japan (8.1 percent), Britain (8.4 percent) and Norway (8.5 percent).
In other words, if we had a health care system like those in most developed countries, we could, in effect, give every American an increase in their disposable income of 8 percent of G.D.P. – about what they pay in federal income taxes
I’m not expecting the Times to fire David Brooks anytime soon, but after his enormous, embarrassing gaffe with the Ryan Plan, can’t his editor at least get him to stop writing about Medicare?
Who else has that kind of time on their hands for such a paltry result?