Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An accidental discovery of a brilliant idea. . .

The last time I forgot to take a book to the gym was a couple of years ago. The  result was in an essay published in The Chicago Tribune.

Yesterday I forgot my book, again. And so was facing 30 minutes on the elliptical with nothing to read.

Collegiate gym music eliminated any chance of slipping into a Zen-like aerobic trance. Watching a mute Dr. Phil or a soap opera was out for reasons of personal taste. That left reading magazines.

There were two on the racks. A year-old Forbes still had its cover.Reading the year-old Forbes was actually okay. It was interesting to see the present as the future. And just when the appeal of this was waning, a wonderful gym staff member brought me a brand new Time magazine.

Usually, I'm so pressured by the flood of available information that I flit from article to article in magazines, skimming everything, looking for what I can use for work. But since this Time magazine was all I had for the remainder of my elliptical time, I settled down and read it. From the beginning. Which meant that pretty shortly I was reading Barbara Kiviat's article, "Can Price Shopping Improve Health Care? And becoming deeply impressed, yet again, with how simple the solutions to complex problems can sometimes seem.

We all agree (don't we?) that health care costs too much. It's nice when our insurance picks up the tab, but that does not address the core problem that the bill is just too high. Ms.Kiviat (pictured left) opines that a little market transparency just might do wonders in the cost department

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article to give you an idea of her reasoning.
. . .Congress has overhauled the industry, but the revolution has largely been about increasing access to health care, not simplifying it. We are left with the same opaque system of perverse incentives--paying providers for more tests and procedures, not necessarily effective ones. And we lack even the most basic element of the free market: price information. I recently went to a doctor and asked how much my office visit and X-ray would cost. Staffers told me that they didn't know and, since I have insurance, I shouldn't care.

I should care, though. In fact, I do. There are many reasons health care costs are spiraling out of control, but the simplest one to understand is this: nobody knows what anything costs. Providers get paid through a tangle of insurance-company agreements and billing schedules that change from patient to patient. No wonder a hospital can sneak a $100 box of Kleenex onto your bill and the price of an MRI can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you don't know what something costs, you can't know if it costs too much.


  1. I usually watch the wellness center's TV that is set on Fox News when I workout on Mt. Elliptical. That is the only time I watch Fox news. So it gives me a different slant on the usual TV news programs I watch.

    When I go to concerts, movies, etc. I usually stick news mags in my jacket as those are easier to tote around than books. Generally it is a Time, The Week, and Smithsonian although I generally end up scanning The Week because its articles are shorter and more concise. Tom Endress

  2. It won't zip right through because it hurts some powerful interests. There was a This American Life (iirc) piece a while back on drug companies. The coupons they will give you for their name-brand drugs cut your out-of-pocket cost for whatever to below the copay for a generic. What you don't see is the drug company charging your insurance $400 for their drug vs the $50 the generic would have cost. I'll bet there are many more stories like that.