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Paul Krugman addressed the question in a NYT op-ed last April, and you may be thinking of this: Passing the Buck.

According to the World Health Organization, in the United States administrative expenses eat up about 15 percent of the money paid in premiums to private health insurance companies, but only 4 percent of the budgets of public insurance programs, which consist mainly of Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers for both public and private insurance are similar in other countries - but because we rely much more heavily than anyone else on private insurance, our total administrative costs are much higher.

According to the health organization, the higher costs of private insurers are "mainly due to the extensive bureaucracy required to assess risk, rate premiums, design benefit packages and review, pay or refuse claims." Public insurance plans have far less bureaucracy because they don't try to screen out high-risk clients or charge them higher fees.

And the costs directly incurred by insurers are only half the story. Doctors "must hire office personnel just to deal with the insurance companies," Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, wrote in The New Yorker. "A well-run office can get the insurer's rejection rate down from 30 percent to, say, 15 percent. That's how a doctor makes money. ... It's a war with insurance, every step of the way."

Isn't competition supposed to make the private sector more efficient than the public sector? Well, as the World Health Organization put it in a discussion of Western Europe, private insurers generally don't compete by delivering care at lower cost. Instead, they "compete on the basis of risk selection" - that is, by turning away people who are likely to have high medical bills and by refusing or delaying any payment they can.

I'll try to look out the WHO source for this.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:57:49 AM EST
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