Many High Health Costs Remain Mysterious
Health care's high costs are a main reason lawmakers are taking on health reform, but it's also a challenge to identify and target the many reasons care is so expensive. NPR takes a look at medical devices, like plastic tubes and scalpels, that boast surprisingly big price tags. A $2,000 dollar metal stent must be tiny and flexible, a $60 plastic catheter must bend in exactly the right way and "the market is still sorting itself out" on the appropriate price of relatively new specialty scalpels used for heart surgery (Joffe-Walt 9/4).
Another confusing area in health care pricing that Congress is taking on is the variation in insurance premium costs by age, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Congress wants to limit the spread between 20-somethings and 50-somethings to allow insurers to charge no more than twice as much for policies given to older people. Insurers are hoping they can charge older customers five times as much. "Anything less would amount to a cost shift, with the younger generation shouldering some of the expense for 'the naturally higher healthy care costs of older individuals,' insurers say" (Grier, 9/3).
Controlling costs may be out of reach, too. "Policy experts say that Democrats may have to accept a bill that is a far cry from the ambitious and costly health care overhaul blueprints on the drawing boards in the House and Senate that would extend coverage to many uninsured Americans, eliminate discriminatory practices within the insurance industry and try to rein in health costs in the coming decade," Kaiser Health News reports.
Scaled back alternatives include a "bare-bones package, in the neighborhood of $200 billion to $300 billion, [that] would focus primarily on a Medicaid expansion, more health care coverage for children and state health insurance exchanges" (Carey and Pianin, 9/4).