I heard Angela Braly, President and CEO of Wellpoint (parent of Anthem Blue Cross of California) speak today at the Town Hall in down town Los Angeles. Wellpoint provides health insurance to 35 million Americans – 1 in 9 people – and has $60 Billion in annual revenue. It is the largest health insurance company in the U.S. Accordingly, I thought that it would be helpful to report what she said.
Ms. Braly said that 18% of the US GDP goes for health care. She also said that 8.5% of GDP is spent by Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP and other government programs. I had never heard that the US government spends so much. Most alarmingly, Ms. Braly pointed out that CMS has announced that the Medicare Trust fund which finances Part A will be bankrupt by 2016. I certainly hope that Congress fixes this problem before they expand other government health insurance programs.
Ms. Braly said that she is concerned about the quality of medical care in the US. She said that of the 17 million people who will visit a doctor this week, one-half will recieve the wrong medical advice. Further, 30% of the money spent on medicine will go towards something that will not help the patient. Medical technology does much good but also consumes much money. Our paper based medical information system doesn’t work in her opinion. Doctors and hospitals are rewarded for the quantity of their medical care, not the quality of their care. That should change.
Ms. Braly is a strong advocate of evidence-based medicine. In support of this, Ms. Braly said that Anthem Blue Cross paid $75 million to doctors in California last year as a bonus for quality improvements.
Regarding the uninsured, Ms. Braly said that we should provide coverage for all. She said that 45 million people lack coverage. The government buying coverage for people will not work however. As evidence, she pointed to the 12 million Americans who are currently eligible for government provided health insurance but not enrolled. Solving the poor enrollment practice of the government could reduce the uninsured ranks by 12 million people. That should be done.
For the uninsured who earn too much to qualify for government assistance yet not enough to affored private coverage, the government should provide “premium assistance” so that they can purchase a policy and get covered.
Ms. Braly said that individual health insurance should be tax deductible. This got a round of applause from the audience. Further, the government should provide subsidies to small businesses so that they can provide group health insurance to their employees.
Ms. Braly said that some health insurance reform is not good. She seemed to be referring to California’s attempt at health insurance reform in 2007. Anthem Blue Cross was a strong opponent of those proposals.
Ms. Braly described the personal nature of health insurance decisions and how people want any treatment – even if it is unproven – when they are facing serious illness. As an example, she described ABMT, or bone marrow treatment for breast cancer. Many advocates campaigned heavily for this treatment and 10 states mandated ABMT treatment. ABMT has now been proven to not be an effective treatment for breast cancer, according to Ms. Braly and to other medical experts. Because of the emotional attachment to a supposed cure, insurance companies were forced to pay for an unproven and ulitmately ineffective – yet very costly – medical procedure. Ms. Braly said that “we have a responsibility to make sure taht people’s treatments will work.”
Finally, Ms. Braly announced that Wellpoint has teamed up with the XPrize to fund the winning entry into a medical financing system that will deliver value at low cost.
I was very impressed with Ms. Braly’s command of the issues and the positive items she listed that will take steps to insure the uninsured and to reduce the cost of health care.