After months of frustration that Covid-19 just won’t go away, Trump has added a new doctor to his coronavirus task force. Dr Scott Atlas, evidently, is willing to tell Trump what he wants to hear, as Atlas regularly appears on FOX News to contradict the more conventional medical advice offered by Dr Fauci and most other public health officials.
Dr Atlas is not an epidemiologist and has no experience with the issues surrounding disease control. He does, however, promote certain ideologically driven viewpoints on healthcare policy that seems attractive to certain conservatives. Unfortunately, Dr Atlas does NOT know what he is talking about–not when it comes to Covid-19 or healthcare reform in general.
In short, Dr Atlas believes that America’s health care system will be cured with tax-free health savings accounts and cheap private insurance with high deductibles. Spoiler: Atlas thinks the cost of healthcare is too high because consumers have no incentive to shop around for the best prices.
Scott Atlas is a radiologist and a Stanford fellow. Most of his academic publications concern research in the field of radiology. His work in radiology is likely just wonderful, but unfortunately, he doesn’t really have anything new to offer when it comes to healthcare policy.
Put more simply, Atlas suggests that Americans purchase a cheap health insurance plan that covers catastrophic injuries and serious illnesses only. Premiums for this kind of insurance are low, but they also carry a high deductible. That means that Americans will be out of pocket for that deductible before their insurance would kick in. At the same time, Americans would save money in a tax-free savings account. If they require healthcare, they will have this money set aside to pay for the deductible–or just the required healthcare services.
Besides the bizarre undertone that comprehensive healthcare insurance is some sort of crutch for people that are bad at managing their finances, for this scheme to work, a person must have extra money in the first place. Yes, the money saved by buying health insurance with a huge deductible can be redirected into this health-care savings account, but what about all those people currently struggling with no insurance or less insurance than they require?
Atlas thinks he has solved this no money for luxuries like healthcare problem. His remedy is to bring down healthcare prices while improving quality. Yes, it’s that easy! Atlas believes this can be done by cutting regulations and reducing government programs and subsidies. Sound familiar? It’s because these are the same old conservative talking points we always hear that are rooted in ideology rather than facts.
It is so simple, Atlas explains to the doubters. Just encourage health care consumers to shop around, increase the supply of care, and stimulate competition. Easy peasy?
So let’s break that down. Atlas says only 5% of health care consumption is related to emergency care. Okay, that sounds reasonable, except that emergency care is still pretty expensive to the average consumer. Not everyone in America is spending 95% of their healthcare budget on elective procedures. Those people that end up in bankruptcy after they break a bone are spending 100% of their total budget on that one mishap.
With added competition, Atlas believes that bargain seeking health care consumers will shop around when it comes to getting an MRI or an Xray. All the clinics have to do is advertise their prices and then patients will be able to find the cheapest clinic. Atlas claims that if clinics post their fees for services, then it will lower prices by up to 20%. Well, that’s great, but he is forgetting that people who cannot afford to get an MRI will probably still be unable to afford an MRI for 20% less.
For some reason, Atlas seems unaware that there is nothing stopping clinics from competing with one another now. He merely believes that reliance on health insurance is encouraging doctors to gouge their patients.
Obamacare was wrongheaded, claims Atlas. Government subsidies and “bloated insurance coverage”, as Atlas calls it, minimizes out of pocket expenses for the patient. That is BAD, according to Atlas, because the more insurance pays for your medical crisis, the less you are concerned with shopping around for the best prices on chemotherapy. Since the patient/consumer doesn’t care about shopping around, doctors are encouraged to charge the highest price they can get away with.
Yes, that is the argument. America’s healthcare problems are YOUR fault for having TOO MUCH insurance coverage–according to Atlas.
There is so much victim blaming going on here. Are the doctors bad people for charging high prices? Or are the patients bad people for relying on the insurance company to pay for their medical bills? So much free-riding. Dr Atlas wants all the charity to stop so that people will understand the value of a health care dollar.
How do governments encourage citizens to make better healthcare choices?The answer is, apparently, that the patient/consumer needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and buy a high deductible insurance plan. That’s right, all these cushy health insurance plans are just encouraging doctors to overcharge for chemo. The more you have to pay out of pocket for your health crisis, the more willing you will be to shop around. Everyone knows that if you don’t pay for your own chemo, you just won’t appreciate it.
Saving for your future healthcare needs is as simple as saving for a rainy day–according to Atlas. Keep those greedy doctors competitive by opening a tax-free healthcare savings account. Once you have savings to protect, you won’t just spend your money willy nilly on inflated healthcare prices. Just watch the cost of healthcare come down when you refuse to buy chemotherapy treatments until your oncologist offers you a discount.
Ok, so that might assist the youthful and affluent, but what about retired elderly people who are already living on their savings and social security? Atlas has an answer for that too:
“motivating seniors to seek value is really crucial to driving prices lower”.Dr Scott Atlas on why seniors make healthcare expensive
Do you know who Dr Atlas believes should pay for the health care expenses of seniors who are on medicaid? Their kids. That’s right. Junior should be contributing to a tax-free savings account so when Grandma gets Covid-19 and needs to be on a ventilator in ICU, Junior can pay for it. First, however, he better shop around for the cheapest intubation therapist available.
Whoa, whoa, whoa!! Don’t medical professionals more or less charge the same rates for services? Yes, more or less, but this can change with de-regulation. That’s right! Stop demanding that medical professionals meet certain criteria to offer certain services. Just let nurse practitioners and physician assistants practice medicine with less constraints. It is, after all, 40% cheaper.
Atlas has another remedy up his sleeve that he believes is sure to please everyone.
Dr Atlas wants to reduce or end the income tax deduction for healthcare expenses because it is just encouraging people to buy more healthcare. Yes, that’s right. Dr Atlas believes that you bought the extra potent chemo just so you could get that sweet income tax deduction.
Finally, an overlooked problem is the unlimited income tax write-off for health expenses. This encourages higher demand for care regardless of cost, while extorting insurance into covering almost all services.Dr Atlas being confused about how much the average American earns per year.
And that’s it. That is the sum of Dr Atlas’s prescription for healthcare policy reform.
Buy cheaper insurance with high deductibles.
Save your money to be able to pay out of pocket for you, your dependents, and your parents.
Get rid of all those price inflating social programs.
Ease regulations on who can perform medical procedures.
Eliminate or reduce income tax write-offs for healthcare expenses.
Sadly, Dr Atlas embodies the argument for why know-nothings need to stay in their lane until they educate themselves on the realities of the situation they are hoping to remedy. As a Stanford fellow, Dr Atlas surely knows better than this.
Atlas finishes his video explanation with the lie that countries using socialized healthcare systems are saving costs by limiting care, medications, and technology. That isn’t happening, and in fact, among similar countries, the US has the shortest life expectancy, has the lowest number of people covered by medical insurance, and has a higher disease burden.
So, no, Dr Atlas does NOT know what he is talking about. In the end, Dr Atlas is promoting a plan to defund what little is currently funded in the U.S. healthcare system. His remedy is merely to transfer all responsibility away from the state and give that responsibility to the individual. Is that in your best interests?