Monitor Board of Contributors: Bosse’s political spin masks the truth of Anthem plan
In this column I am going to unabashedly criticize Monitor columnist Grant Bosse – let me get that out up front. Specifically, I’m going after him for his “Obamacare continues to crumble” column in the Sept. 8 Sunday Monitor. I’m doing this because I care about Bosse, the columnist, and so should you all. Why? Because we need to work to keep a diligent, fact-oriented, economically sound mind, a quality conservative voice that brings balance to a reliably liberal Monitor staff, from succumbing to the dark side of life in the opinion-shaping industry – the temptation to morph into a party hack.
In taking Bosse to task here, I am not defending Obamacare. I am no fan of socializing the costs of anything if there is some other way to let people sort it out. So just please apply that lens to what I am about to say.
On Sunday, Bosse jumped all over the fact that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is planning to offer a low-cost plan on the state’s new, Obamacare-funded, health care exchange. To keep the cost of that plan way down, Anthem used only 14 of the state’s 26 central hospital systems – those with costs of service low enough to make a real difference in plan premiums. The result, according to Anthem, will lower premiums by 25 percent or so.
This feature of Obamacare introduces a measure of real market pricing discipline and is taken right out of Republican Party proposals from a decade ago. What Anthem is doing is going shopping, looking for the best deals in the state for health care. This is exactly what many market economists claim has been missing from health care. By shopping in this way in order to obtain lower cost service, Anthem is showing up the high-cost providers and putting pressure on them to react. That is how market forces work – and it is a good thing for us consumers.
Now, to get the best deal on health care, as with any service, you may have to trade off some convenience. You may have to travel some to a more distant place. But again, that is how markets work – that is why Manchester car dealers advertise in the Monitor, or why people drive past local stores to Walmart. How you value any good or service is a combination of price, quality, convenience and personal taste. Here, if you don’t want Anthem’s low-cost plan, you are going to have to pay more to get the service tailored to your preference. No surprise there for any market economist.
But my man Bosse didn’t pitch it that way. Instead, he adamantly crowed that Anthem was “rationing care” by limiting its low-cost plan to low cost providers. Well, duh. That is what a market pricing system does – it rations any good based on ability, or inclination, to pay. Want to drive a Jaguar instead of a Ford, but can’t afford it? Gosh, the market just rationed Jaguars, and you didn’t get one. Same for health care – if you want to pay less, you have to make some compromises.
Anthem, and the exchange feature of Obamacare, has done us all a good thing here: It has highlighted the cost difference (and a big one) between different health care service centers in the state. The folks at Concord Hospital and other higher-cost providers are going to have to react to that public pricing challenge – and I imagine they will do so creatively and soon, which in turn benefits us all.
So I expected Bosse to delight in the power of even a modest market flashlight to shine on the inefficient, show them up, and immediately produce some results in health care – and to advocate for more of it. Instead he cast the Anthem plan as just another failing of Obamacare, something that would forcibly keep you from your doctor of choice, as another example of socialized medicine gone further awry. In doing, that, he was plainly pushing a much more political agenda – he was spinning the Anthem plan into a fear-based bash on Obamacare.
In doing that, Bosse left behind his own high standards for research and logic – and drifted toward the Sarah Palin school of just saying stuff. We need to call him out on it, and call him back to his craft – because the Monitor is made better by his best pieces. We need Bosse to remain an honest broker of facts – not devolve into another spin artist.
(M. Curtis Whittaker heads the Energy Practice Group at Rath, Young & Pignatelli in Concord.)