Still No Discussion About The Real Medical Issue
The Market Ticker - Commentary on The Capital Markets
2016-10-25 06:00 by Karl Denninger
in Health Reform , 1503 references Ignore this thread
Still No Discussion About The Real Medical Issue*
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Yes, you're going to die.

We all will die.

We have some choice as to how and where, but not the final outcome.  That's known in advance.

We have heard for decades about how "terrible" this part of medical care this or that might be.  That administrative overhead has grown here, there, and everywhere.  That cost is going up due to this, that or whatever.

The latest screamfest is about MACRA and claims that it will "destroy" Medicare doctor choice.  Like so many claims before it this one centers on trying to get you buy into the idea that all these "great plans" are really about pushing Grandma, in a wheelchair, down the stairs -- or off the cliff, as Democrats have repeatedly charged.

But nobody wants to talk about the truth.

The truth is that technology drives productivity, and productivity drives down cost.  It does so every time that the market is allowed to work. It is why you can buy a $35 computer today, right now, that is the size of a credit card, can run your house, browse the web or do all sorts of things that a computer costing a million dollars 40 years ago could not.

Oh, and did I mention that it requires less electricity than one 25 watt light bulb, where the former model 40 years ago required industrial power (and the power bill to match) along with forced air conditioning under a raised floor lest it literally melt down from its own heat.

You'd think medical care is exempt from this, but that's only because you live here in the United States.

Let's just take one example.  MRIs have been revolutionary in many areas of medicine.  By allowing imaging of soft tissue that was formerly impossible, along with having zero radiological exposure (that is, no risk of causing cancer or other problems as with an X-ray, CT scan or similar) they have brought precise diagnosis of maladies that formerly were nothing more than a guess.

But.... here in the United States they're expensive.  If you have allegedly "good" health insurance you might not think so, but in fact they are.  An MRI scan costs from $1,000 to $3,000 or so in the United States, and whether you pay it out of pocket or it is billed to some "insurance company" and thus is hidden in cost from you, that's what they cost.

We have US companies that make the machines used for those scans.  We also have doctors trained to read them, which is inherently part of it.  And, to hear the medical folks talk, they tell you these machines are expensive, trained radiologists are expensive, and, well, that's what it costs.

They're lying, they're bilking you, and they all ought to be in prison.

Every.

Single.

One.

See, there is this little nation called Japan.  Japan is also a first-world nation.  Japan also has firms that make MRI machines. Japan has doctors, including trained radiologists.  And in Japan, you can walk into a clinic and get your MRI done for somewhere between $100-160.  In cash.

In the 1980s, when the first MRIs for clinical use were approved and entered service, scans were expensive everywhere, including Japan.  But over the last 30 years the price there crashed, as happens whenever the advancement of technology and productivity intersects with the market and unlawful, felonious interference is absent.

But wait, we're told -- that 10x, 20x, 30x price here in the United States is reasonable and necessary.

Sure it is -- if you support being bilked, price-fixing, intentionally buying up competitors and either shutting them down or raising their prices, "affiliating" all the centers with hospitals (at even higher prices) and more.

And all of this, I remind you, is illegal.  Not "a little" illegal either: Felony illegal.

So says 15 USC Chapter 1.

Said law is more than 100 years old.  It bans, under felony criminal penalty and ruinous fines, any act that restraints trade, forms monopolies, price-fixes and similar.  Trusts in restraint of import trade (e.g. prescription drugs) are also illegal, albeit at a misdemeanor level (15 USC Ch 1, §8)

We keep asking the wrong questions, and we do it because the media and political parties intentionally ask the wrong questions so as to keep us from asking the right ones.

The right question is: "Why do we need a thing called 'insurance' that is not actually insurance, and why aren't those who sell an intentionally falsely-labeled product or service all rotting in prison?"

You see, insurance is a thing you buy to cover your expense if an unlikely but ruinous event happens.  Medical care in the general sense is not unlikely.  Cancer might be unlikely, but prescription meds, a checkup or treatment for an existing condition are not "unlikely"; they are not only likely in the case of something you already suffer from they're guaranteed!

You cannot buy insurance on your house if it is already on fire.

Why can you buy "insurance" on your medical state to treat diabetes if you are already diabetic?

And finally, if you buy insurance on your house, and it burns down, you never pay another nickel in premium (on that house) -- now the insurance company pays you.  But get sick and watch what happens -- not only must you keep paying but when your "annual insurance birthday" comes along the price can change, and so can the services, and you must pay whatever the new price is or they stop paying your already existing claim for the event that already happened.

Hmmmm....

I've been writing on this since The Market Ticker began publication and in fact have been advocating on this point since the 1990s when I ran my Internet company -- the trajectory, where it was headed, when it was going to happen and the outcome was easily projected even then.  The number of "mainstream media" folks who want to have myself or others who have brought this up with facts and figures on the air, and the number of serious political discussions or debates on the topic over those last 25+ years?

Zero.

The real discussion, which nobody wants you to ask, is why that MRI is $1,000 instead of $98 like it is in Japan?  You see, the $98 you could pay out of your pocket, and in fact with most "insurance" the $1,000 MRI scan still costs you more than $98!

What does that mean?

Simple: If there was no medical scam in the first place you wouldn't need or want today's version of "medical insurance" and thus you would never buy it.  You would instead be able to and would pay in cash.

There would never have been a "need" for Obamacare, there would have never been an outcry over health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid would not be 37% of federal spending, there would be no federal budget deficit, most of the Federal Debt would not exist and in fact there would be a multi-hundred-billion a year budget surplus, your spending power would be going up by about 2% a year instead of down by 8+%there would be no impending pension crisis nor would cities have gone bankrupt and more.

What you might buy, and companies would offer, is true insurance.  But since the cost of treating things such as cancer would also come down in cost by 80%, 90% or more the cost of insurance against those unlikely but expensive events would be reasonable to purchase.  You'd probably pay a couple hundred bucks for it -- yearly -- which is affordable for basically everybody.  And it you got sick?  The company would pay to "fix" it and you would not need to pay any more for the actual insurance against the event that already happened.  You might choose to continue to pay for possible future illnesses or injuries -- or you might not.  But irrespective of that choice your treatment for the already-occurred event would be covered.

How does it happen in this country, if it is to ever happen?

Prosecution.

Not new laws, not new regulations, not more hand-waving by Democrats, Republicans or anyone else.

Prosecution under laws that are over 100 years old, exist now, could have been enforced 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 2 years ago, 1 year ago, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Laws that neither political party will enforce.

Laws that neither a Republican or Democrat White House, which I remind you is where the power to enforce laws rests (in the Executive) has ever in the history of this insane mess enforced.

Laws that no State Attorney General, despite there being laws on most state law books banning these practices as well, along with general consumer protection laws that prohibit deceptive practices (and performing a service without discussing price first certainly would fit that description) has ever enforced.

Laws that, I remind you, neither Trump or Hillary has spent one minute discussing in this Presidential Campaign despite it being within either of their power, if elected, to direct their Attorney General to investigate, bring to Grand Juries and prosecute the rampant, outrageous and clear violation of these laws.

Would there be losers if this was to happen?

There sure would.  Anyone who says otherwise is crazy.

There would be a lot of out-of-work lobbyists, for one.

There would be a material increase in the cost of prescription drugs in other nations because level pricing would force same.  But while their prices would go up, perhaps by a lot, ours would collapse by 70% or more.  Why?  It's arithmetic -- there are 330 million of us and about 1000 million in the OECD world of them, plus another ~300+ million in the "developing" world with a middle class or better income.  We've been paying their bill for decades and the day we stop there is one pool with level pricing for all. Assuming no change in total revenue their prices rise by quite a bit but ours collapse by 70% or more -- in many cases that drop would be 80-90%.

There would be an immediate recession, and a deep one at that, as Health Care went from 19% of the US economy (where it is today) back to about 4%, where it was 30-40 years ago.  However, at the same time that would increase business productivity tremendously, reallocate those funds to production, businesses would flock to the newly-competitive United States and ultimately, within a year or two, we'd win big on both productivity and GDP.   But make no mistake -- there would be losers, and in the short term there would be economic pain, especially for those in the health care sector today.  Indeed, if you're a health "administrator" I hope you can do something else, since your numbers have grown by over a factor of 30 in the last 40 years and none of those additional administrators would still have jobs.

If you have or develop a rare or "orphan" disease you might be screwed.  Let's not mince words on this -- there are certainly things we can do technologically but we cannot afford to do for everyone, or even nearly anyone.  While you will be able to buy insurance against those calamities many people will not, just as many do not buy flood insurance now despite it being cheap if you're in a "no special risk" zone.  If you get flooded without flood insurance, or get an orphan disease without having insurance against it, you're going to be screwed.  And?  Life is a series of risks, some of which you can control and some of which you cannot.  You can insure against whatever you wish but you must not be allowed to take your choices and make them someone else's obligation.  That is how we got to where we are now, in short, and if we fix this that will end.

What if we don't fix it?

Then we all -- this entire nation -- economically die within the next few years. Not at some point in the reasonably-distant future, and not just a possibility either.

IT IS, IN FACT, A MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY.

That's the choice folks, and if you choose not to decide -- if you choose to remain silent -- you are choosing economic if not personal, and painful, death.

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