“Health care wonks play a game where they wonder whether health care really is changing in ways that are palpably better for everyone,” Brian Klepper writes over at careandcost.com and the Valid Points Newsletter. “Everyone, that is, except for the senior executives of the drug and device firms, electronic health record companies, major health plans and health systems that have become so adept at relentlessly squeezing more money out of us and everyone we know. There’s a sort of desperate hopefulness afoot here, the idea that our activities are undermining the stranglehold on policy and the marketplace that keep the current regimes in place and thriving. Then reality kicks in and we remember that, so far, not much has changed. Health care continues, as Dave Chase points out, to steal the American dream.That said, it is impossible to not notice positive progress in health care market dynamics. While I’ve alluded to many of these observations in previous comments, it’s worth recounting a few trends.The table above shows that health plans have been spectacularly successful over the past decade, but they’re in an increasingly difficult spot now. Major health plan average stock price growth over a 37-quarter period ranges from almost 16% per quarter for Anthem to 29%/quarter for Humana. Effectively, these health plans earn more as health care costs more, which gives them every incentive to tolerate and encourage poor and inappropriate care, as well as egregious unit pricing.The health plans’ breathtaking stock price performance is a mixed blessing. On the down side, US health care costs continue to spiral upward and more businesses and individuals are being priced out of the market, which means that a decreasing pool of insurables is available. Worse, while it may be counter-intuitive, these health plans can’t buy into tactics that would make health care more efficient. Doing so would reduce total spend, in turn reducing health plan earnings, stock price and market capitalization. Relative health care upstarts like Walmart and Amazon, with health care businesses that are a sideline rather than core to their operations, do not have these constraints.” Brian Klepper, “Could We Be at the Edge of Health Care’s Tipping Point?” Care And Cost.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder