HealthCare: Price vs. Cost

I wish that I could say that I said it.  But I didn’t; Mr. Munger did:

Right now, our attempts at reform are doomed by a law of accounting physics: Insurance can’t cost less than the health care it insures.

Consider: I have car insurance. But my insurance doesn’t pay for oil changes.

Instead, I go down to the Happy Lube, without an appointment, get a diagnosis of the needs of my car, and choose services based on a price list published online. Some of these services are complex, and require large expensive machines and equipment. But I don’t have to pay a separate bill, or go wait in another line, at another office or lab.

… compare it to car insurance, for two people. Imagine neither of us has to pay for our car repairs, from accidents or engine wear. We can go to the garage as often as we like, and get whatever service we want, for free. The car repair shop can charge our insurance whatever they want, because insurance pays everything. An oil change would bill out at $600; an alignment would bill our insurance $2,200, with another $800 tacked on to pay for micro-digital wheel axis imaging.

Of course, the services aren’t really free. At the end of every year, we sum the total repair costs for both people, and each of us pays half of that total.

The cost of that free car care would be enormous, because of all the unnecessary and overly expensive charges. Of course, the government could subsidize the final bill; would that help? The answer is no, for two clear reasons.

First, having the government (meaning taxpayers) subsidize the total would do nothing to reduce the runaway cost increases. Buyers won’t shop around if they don’t know or care about real costs. Subsidies mean I don’t pay if I spend, and I don’t save if I’m frugal.

Second, let’s expand the example from two people (each paying half) to 300 million people getting free care (but paying an equal share of total costs). We have met the public option, and it is us! Once we are all paying ourselves, there is no one else to hit up to help with the costs. We are simply taking each person’s money in taxes, then giving some of it back in subsidies. There is no saving, even to individuals.

Just good stuff.

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