You’ve probably never thought about it. Hopefully you will now. Here is a PDF report just out from the Colorado Hospital Association. It is the worst imaginable job of trying to pass lobbying off as research or policy. Why do we allow a report like this to be written in the name of a non-profit? The report is nothing more than an exercise in creative writing, timed for the start of the legislative session, designed to distract legislators from the truth and to get them to “study” the problem instead of solving it.
The executive summary begins with the history of germ theory and how the transmission of disease was once misunderstood, suggesting that today we misunderstand the drivers of costs in healthcare and, by implication, we should do nothing other than study it. “Studying” a problem is one of the go-to strategies of lobbies.
Lacking any foundation, the report suggests the questions we should be asking — instead of the questions we actually ask. Here’s their list of what we should be looking at (what’s missing comes after):
- Colorado’s high cost of living significantly drives health care costs up.
- Something in addition to health care costs is driving insurance premium rates in Colorado. High insurance premiums do not directly correlate with hospital overhead costs, nor with health care expenditures.
- Coloradans’ spending on health care and insurance premiums is lower – and growing slower – than the rest of the United States.
- Hospital spending is the largest expense “bucket” and it should be. Hospitals care for people when they are the sickest and most other care is provided in other, less expensive places.
- What Colorado hospitals pay for workers, services and equipment is 6th highest in the nation. These expenses are also influenced by Colorado’s high cost of living. Further analysis is required to understand why Colorado’s proportion of non-medical costs is high.
- Communities small and large need their hospitals to be there when they need care, especially when there’s a large-scale event, like a flu outbreak or natural disaster. Hospitals have to plan for those terrible events, and as Colorado’s population grows, hospitals will grow, too. Many Colorado hospitals reported operating at full capacity on multiple occasions in 2018.
What’s missing? Glad you asked. Here’s my list:
- Hospitals buying up physician practices then jacking up the price, adding facilities fees, and nickel and diming patients to pad the bills even further.
- An increasing lack of competition as the little guys are squeezed out (monopolies, by any other name).
- Collusion between hospitals and insurance carriers.
- Group Purchasing Organizations.
- Fast-rising pharmaceutical and medical device prices.
- Executive salaries and bonuses at what are supposed to be non-profit hospitals.
- Growing hospital profitability (yes, they are making ever-more money).
- And — you guessed it, A COMPLETE LACK OF PRICE TRANSPARENCY that would empower consumers and the broader marketplace to demand efficiency, balance supply and demand, and drive down costs.
Had the CHA done a good job and been even remotely honest, they could have included the six areas they suggested be studied to try and dilute these real reasons. But failure to include ANY of the real drivers of the out-of-control cost of hospital services is such a blatantly obvious (and stupid) strategy that we can only pray it backfires.