Earlier this year, consulting firm Milliman spelled out the trouble with health care spending in their annual medical index: The annual health costs of a typical family of four through an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization rose 6.3 percent to $22,030 in 2013. And families have been hit with a larger percentage increase in costs than employers.
This brings to mind two very real issues we must face. First, part of the driving force behind this cost inflation is poor consumerism.
Why are we such terribly inefficient buyers of health services? If you dent your car and figure the repair cost will be around $1,500, you’re likely to run out to three garages and get bids.
You’ll probably check the consumer rankings of the garages — assuming you don’t already know about them from friends — and choose a bid to accept. Yet when your doctor tells you that you need knee surgery that will probably cost $15,000, you just check in to whatever hospital you have always gone to and go under the knife without thinking about whether the hospital a couple of miles away might be less expensive, provide better care, or both.
What has driven us to this point? Is it the government, now meddling in the business in a big way with PPACA and a cloud of state regulations that have seemed to do nothing to control expense — and possibly have built a framework for the opposite?
Is it big pharma, using the guise of R&D expenses to charge inordinate royalties for designer drugs? Is it medical equipment manufacturers, eager to sell hospitals their multi-million dollar scanners and probers? Is it the medical providers — hospitals and physicians — making vast sums of money while the average family sinks financially in the face of medical expenses?
Is it insurance companies, trying to squeeze the last bit of profit out of a business where — at least in theory — their expense ratio is regulated?
What are we doing to control costs for employees? We know employees are vital to our business, paying for voluntary plans, yet we keep trying to find ways to ask them for more money, too.
We need to realize our role in the problem. We are eager to offer employees products to fill gaps in their medical plans, but nothing to either shrink the gaps or to shrink the level of cost. We obsess about effects of Obamacare, yet what are we doing to attack medical spending?
One answer is wellness programs — but are we spending as much effort on engaging employees in wellness as we are in selling voluntary products alongside them? Are we advising employers on ways to get their employees to become better health care consumers, and on ways to foster employee empowerment via consumerism and transparency?
There are tools that can make this happen in the market, and we should be using them as part of our core value proposition. The health care system is ill — and we need to start advancing a cure.