Health care costs can be reduced if Congress works together, says prof

Sep 28, 2021, 1:05 PM
health care costs...
FILE: University of Utah Health workers treat patients inside the medical intensive care unit at University of Utah Hospital on Friday, July 30, 2021. University of Utah Health announced it will require vaccines for all staff who interface with patients at its hospitals and clinics. Photo: Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health Care

SALT LAKE CITY — It can be hard to understand what’s happening with health care costs today, and it’s purposely designed that way; it’s bankrupting Americans and it doesn’t need to be that way, says a professor of economics.

Utah State University Professor Henry Eyring said there are bipartisan solutions that policymakers could implement to make a difference.

Eyring, along with co-author Douglas Hervey, penned an opinion piece in Deseret News stating:

  • A recent study reported that medical bills were a key contributor to more than 66% of personal bankruptcies in the U.S.

Related: Opinion: U.S. health care is needlessly pricing people out. Here’s how to fix that.

“Utah has relatively low health care spending per person, but ranks among the worst in the nation for the percentage of residents reporting affordability problems,” says a report, compiled by  Altarum Healthcare Value Hub, an organization funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and featured in Deseret News: More than half of Utahns struggle to afford health care.

  • 30 million U.S. residents lacked health insurance in the first half of 2020, according to estimates from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). 

How can the most prosperous nation on Earth have so many uninsured people? This condition stems from “a maze of incentive-distorting laws and widespread collusion that suffocate competition,” Eyring and Hervey write in Deseret News.

Eyring joined Inside Sources host Boyd Matheson last week. He said that health care costs have consistently risen about two or three times the rate of overall inflation. Also, during the past 10 years, health-care deductibles have risen at eight times the rate of wages, he said.

How to achieve transparency in medical pricing?

Eyring said he talked with an executive of a healthcare system who said he wanted to make prices transparent for consumers but described his hands as tied.

“When we try to move towards transparency, medical-device supply companies, pharmaceuticals, entrenched players [and] lobbyists threaten us. And so at the end of the day, it’s a legislative solution,” Eyring said, quoting the executive.

Eyring said consumers should demand knowing if something they are about to enter into will bankrupt them. There are laws on disclosure concerning publicly traded companies. Why not the same disclosure requirements for hospital procedures? he asked.

Killing competition drives health care costs up

“Only 30 percent of doctors are able to even import an electronic health record when a patient switches to them,” Eyring said. “So that’s a natural barrier to switching doctors . . . that comes with costs and poor care.”

One of the positives to emerge from the pandemic, Boyd pointed out, is that tele-health works well.

Eyring said two changes need to be enacted to the practice of tele-health:

  1. “Nixing the rules that limit tele-health mostly to rural geographies and 
  2. doubling the scope of services that Medicare will reimburse for when provided by tele-health.”

He pointed to the example of a patient asked to visit the doctor in person for test results, when they could come via tele-health.

“Why did they make you leave work and get babysitting and things like that? It’s about reimbursement,” Eyring said.

Read more: Diabetics go underground to counteract prescription costs

He said in the end it comes down to Congress passing legislation that erects guardrails for a fair, functioning market.

“It just comes down to people trying to do what they think is right, and Utah’s a place that knows how to do that,” he said.

Henry Eyring teaches at Utah State University and the London School of Economics. Douglas Hervey is a partner at Cicero and leads their health care and private equity practice.

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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Health care costs can be reduced if Congress works together, says prof