July 13, 2004
Pitney Bowes battles America's broken health care finance system
This Wall Street Journal ($) article provides an excellent analysis of what Pitney Bowes -- the mailing service and equipment company -- learned regarding the question of why health costs keep rising relentlessly in America: A dysfunctional market creates few incentives for any of its participants to deliver efficient care. In fact, competition among insurers, health-care providers and producers of drugs and equipment often led to higher, rather than lower, prices.
Although the Bush Administration continues to ignore the problem, the struggle by American businesses to rein in health-care costs is nearing crisis levels. American employers still pay the majority of health-care costs for more than 130 million Americans and have borne the brunt of double-digit annual increases in benefit costs. Companies as large as General Motors Corp. reports that it spends "significantly" more on health care than steel, and recent data suggests that health care costs to employers could rise as much as 10% next year. Even a big company with an entire team dedicated to rooting out the source of rising health-care costs has little power to change these dynamics.
Pitney-Bowes has an internal team that aggressively pursues ways to contain ballooning health costs. But such a solution is easier wished for then achieved:
Last year, [the Pitney-Bowes team] scored a small victory. Employees who went to a hospital in 2003 stayed for an average of 3.7 days, unchanged from a year earlier. The overall number of admissions didn't rise, either.
So Pitney Bowes was startled to nonetheless discover that the average cost of each hospital visit jumped 9% to $10,600. The average cost per day jumped 17%. One of the biggest culprits? Increasingly powerful hospital groups in California, whose price increases pushed the company's average cost of a hospital admission in that state to $20,500, twice what it paid elsewhere.
By combing through claims data from its 46,000 U.S. employees and their dependents, Pitney Bowes can pinpoint some of the big contributors to the nation's surging health-care bill: Local hospital mergers; entrepreneurial doctors prescribing costly MRIs and CT-scans at their own private clinics; marketing for expensive drugs such as the heartburn medicine Nexium, which became Pitney Bowes's third-highest drug expenditure last year after an advertising blitz by maker AstraZeneca PLC.
Indeed, despite the Pitney-Bowes team's efforts, health care costs at the company continue to skyrocket:
. . . the total cost of claims Pitney Bowes paid directly -- covering about 80% of its employees -- rose 11.5%, more than it expected. About 20% of Pitney Bowes's employees are covered by health-maintenance organizations, for which the company pays a simple premium. That brings the average increase in prices for the entire company down to 7.5%. Pitney Bowes also managed to reduce its overall costs by increasing employee contributions and winning discounts on certain drugs and services.
The Pitney Bowes team . . . has helped moderate the expansion in Pitney Bowes's $135 million health-care budget. But despite its most vigilant efforts, Pitney Bowes's health-care costs continue to climb faster than the rate of inflation and faster than increases in most other business expenses.
Read the entire article because it provides an excellent overview of the economic pressures that will continue to drive health care prices higher in America's health care finance system that is predominated by private third party payors. As noted on this blog before, unless or until the payment of health costs are placed back in the hands of the consumer, these market anamolies that continually drive up costs and limit competition in certain sectors of health care administration will continue to proliferate. The failure of the Bush Adminstration and the Republican-controlled Congress to address this key issue in a meaningful fashion remains a glaring weakness that the Democrats can exploit in the upcoming Presidential election.
Posted by Tom at July 13, 2004 6:20 AM |
I totally agree with what you're saying. I wish more people felt this way and took the time to express themselves. Keep up the great work.
Posted by: Frank Gonzalez at February 8, 2006 7:02 PM
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Mary Anne Martin
Posted by: Mary Anne Martin at May 4, 2006 9:52 PM
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