The third post in the series "Family medicine in the era of health reform" will appear at a later date. I wanted to cover another topical issue.
The lead article in the New York Times, May 14, 2011, by Reed Abelson, is Health Insurers Making Record Profits as Many Postpone Care. In his wonderful daily commentary on health news, Quote of the Day, Dr. Don McCanne simply observes “The headline says it all.” That’s the gist of it, but it does deserve a little more discussion. For one thing, the health insurance companies, despite record profits over the last two years, are continuing to raise their premiums very significantly, justifying this by saying that they expect that, as the economy improves, people who have been delaying getting health care will begin to do so and create a great demand.
“’I am noticing my patients with insurance are more interested in costs,’ said Dr. Jim King, a family practice physician in rural Tennessee. ‘Gas prices are going up, food prices are going up. They are deciding to put some of their health care off.’ A patient might decide not to drive the 50 miles necessary to see a specialist because of the cost of gas...”
While the insurance companies are using the opportunity to stash away even more money for the flood that may, or may not, come: the Times quotes an industry analyst as saying about demand for health care services “The big question is whether it is going to stay weak or bounce back…Nobody knows.” They are raising their rates by double digits (for example, an Oregon Blue Cross/Blue Shield raised them by 22%), while having big profits (“…big insurance companies have reported first-quarter earnings that beat analysts expectations by an average of 30 percent.”)