(2) Obamacare: Spare Parts for a Book
New topic 2015-07-22 16:02:02 description
Meanwhile, I decided two things: to go ahead with the book with its final goal largely sacrificed to immediate needs. And, to prepare an interim, or new, Health Savings Account proposal. The new proposal would go ahead with a few advances toward Lifetime Health Savings Accounts which might be acceptable enough to political combatants to pass Congress, but which could advance the concepts of Lifetime HSA through some experimental stages. Even that proved too ambitious because It would require decades to prove the concepts that way. So it was stripped down some more, creating the last chapter of this book. Instead of taking a few ideas and struggling with them for a lifetime, I finally came to the view that a lifetime was a series of events, some of which worked out, and some didn't. Like a string of beads, I finally strung them together, recognizing that some would have to be replaced. s essentially a pilot study of proofs-of-concept, preparing the way for more grandiose plans after most demonstrated flaws had been cleaned up. I called it New Health Savings Accounts (N-HSA), and thought it would work to include all of healthcare except for age 21-66. Although that would cover 58% of health costs, it would not conflict with the Affordable Care Act, and might eventually seek greater compatibility as the ACA evolved. If the ACA got thrown out, it would be a concept prepared to take its place, without tumbling us into healthcare chaos. But until some upcoming elections clarified where the public stood, the two ideas could essentially stay out of each other's way.
A description of N-HSA follows in this section. Because the calculations of the Lifetime goal-model showed L-HSA could generate considerably more money than required, I was misled into thinking abbreviated N-HSA would generate ample funds. That turns out to be only narrowly true, and it has such a thin margin of safety that a major war or a major recession would probably sink it before it had enough public support as a pilot study. That didn't stop Lyndon Johnson from going ahead with a program which was only 50% funded, together with a Social Security program which has a similarly bleak balance sheet, and a Medicaid program which is a notorious failure to do a good job or to come close to paying for itself. But those were different times. In 1965 the international balance of payments of the United States had been positive for 17 years in 1965 but has been steadily negative for fifty years subsequent to that time. It shows no sign of improving. The Vietnam semi-revolution destroyed Lyndon Johnson's political career in the Sixties. His entitlement programs lingered on as unsupportable public generosities for fifty more years, but they simply must change if we are to survive as a nation.
The Health Savings Account is based on a different set of fundamentals. We have saved enormous sums by stamping out thirty diseases but at a different sort of cost which has increased as we extend our generosity to essentially everybody, even non-citizens. We have created a tidal wave of rising expectations which even the most optimistic surely cannot imagine can continue indefinitely, and a rising rebellion of envious foreigners with nuclear capability, and an unstable monetary system without any definable standard; which puts us at the mercy of ambitious foreign rulers. And yet, we continue to throw huge amounts of money at research, in a typically American mixture of hope and calculation. We have narrowed most medical costs to about five chronic diseases, cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinsonism and self-inflicted conditions, and we aren't going to stop until those five conditions are cured. Nobody told us to do such a thing, but everybody secretly hopes it will work. If we eliminate diseases, well, everybody can then afford not to pay for them. Unfortunately, it created a bigger, unanticipated, problem.
We bifurcated medical payments into three compartments: working people age 21-66 who earn almost all the new wealth, but most don't get very expensively sick. Secondly, the elderly from 66-100 who don't earn much money, but increasingly have all the expensive diseases. And third, the children from birth to age 21, who only consume 8% of the health care costs, but who have no opportunity, either to pre-fund their costs or to earn enough to pay for them. This third group, as I found out, unexpectedly upset almost all plans for comprehensive care, cradle to grave. Rich and poor folks, about whom we have heard so much, are distributed within these three groups. What we have mindlessly created is the need for an enormous transfer of wealth from the people who earn it, to the rest of the nation, who have most of the disease and little of the earning power. This wealth transfer is just more than the generosity of the country can comfortably support, and it's been growing steadily from President Teddy Roosevelt to President Barack Obama.
My concept, right from 1980 onward, has been to find a way for individuals to store up their own wealth while they are working, so they can support their own costs when they grow older. Doing it by demographic classes is too much altruism to tolerate -- just listen to what young people are saying about their lucky elders, and to what the baby boomers are saying about the millennials. The nick-names will change, but that's the way all interest groups talk about each other. I had assumed that medical science had already reduced the disease burden to the point where self-funding your own old age -- in advance -- would cover a majority of the population, but I now have to admit we are only part-way. Enough volunteers would probably support N-HSA to make the experiment a success in normal times, but it doesn't have enough cushion to be completely confident it could survive a war or a depression. Every time we make a scientific advance, the day of feasibility gets a little sooner. So, it boils down to whether you are willing to take the risk now, or not. I'd like to see a pilot study of volunteers iron out the kinks, first. But a great many impatient people are boiling to take the risk right now, and if we are lucky on the international and economic level, it might work. Every bull market "climbs a wall of worry." If we approach it more gradually, it is more certain to work. Judge for yourself.
Originally published: Tuesday, September 01, 2015; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019