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February 17, 2008

Living Without The California Health Insurance Industry

Blue Cross of California is sending physicians copies of health insurance applications filled out by new patients, along with a letter advising them that the company has a right to drop members who fail to disclose "material medical history," including "pre-existing pregnancies."

The letter wasn't going down well with physicians. "We're outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality," said Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Assn.

Blue Cross may or may not be within its rights to send out this letter, but they aren't doing anything either illegal or unusual. After all, any profit making insurance company is going to do its best to avoid covering people who are likely to incur large medical expenses. It's just the nature of the beast. If they don't do it, they'll go out of business.

So let's get rid of health insurance companies. They cherry pick clients, add huge administrative costs to the system, and do nothing to drive innovation or bring down costs. What good are they? Tyler Cowen answers:

Let me be clear: the incentives today are screwy. Let me also tell you my ideal world. Insurance companies are judged by honest third party intermediaries. Insurance companies compete like heck to make customers satisfied. Insurance companies monitor doctors, read Robin Hanson, and require evidence-based medicine. Insurance companies which fail at these pursuits either go bankrupt or they must abide by an ex ante contract to permit the exile of their CEOs to Greenland. Every year prices would fall in real terms, quality would improve, and coverage would be expanded. Imagine the whole health care sector working like laser eye surgery or cosmetic surgery.

I believe we know why insurance companies don't work this way, namely monitoring problems; they screw you over instead of serving you and they can get away with it. Go ahead, call me a pollyanna, but modern information technology and measurement can indeed resolve many monitoring problems. We can now monitor central bank performance quite well or show up in Sicily with a credit card and rent a car. Neither was the case forty years ago.

Click here for your free California health insurance quote now!

Posted by healthinsurance at February 17, 2008 06:36 PM