MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Dr. Martha Perez examines Maria Lebron in a room at the Community Health of South Florida, Doris ...

Column: ‘The Medicare Maven’ on Ivy’s health insurance horror story

Editor’s note: Two days ago, we published the health care cost nightmare of singer Ivy Austin, “My health insurance nightmare and what I’m doing from now on.” Yesterday we posted an I-told-you-so response from Elizabeth Rosenthal, author of  “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.”

Common sensibly, I asked our resident Making Sen$e “Medicare Maven,” “Ask Phil” Moeller for his reaction as well. Here is his no-less-outraged response.

Please let us know if you’ve had similar experiences. We plan to publish excerpts from the responses we get.

— Paul Solman, economics correspondent

I hear from Ivy Austins every day, although not with the detail, clarity and wit of the original. There is no defense for the way she and countless other patients are being treated by the U.S. health care system. This system continues to be staunchly supported by largely uninformed people, who maintain — incorrectly — that it provides the world’s best health care. What it actually provides is the world’s most expensive health care. And what do we get for all this money? Health outcomes that place America and its residents solidly in the ranks of developing nations.

Rants aside, the question is what we, the people, can do in the face of this system’s persistent and institutionalized disdain for us – the very folks it is supposed to serve. Expecting help from government here is appropriate but, at least until liberals regain the levers of political power, unrealistic. Attacking doctors’ offices, health care facilities and insurance companies may on occasion feel good. But once those good people are finished pointing fingers at misguided government policies and bureaucrats, they then occupy the roles of oppressors. And as Ms. Austin documents, they do a hell of a good job at that.

As patients and taxpayers, we pay the nation’s health care bills. Translating this pocketbook power into true clout will require bringing consumerism and price transparency to health care. Most consumers could once afford to be blissfully ignorant of what health care cost. Insurance companies wrestled with care providers over such unpleasant details. We were told in so many words by health care providers not to worry our little heads about money. We just paid our insurance premiums or, in many cases, our employers did, and thus we had little idea of actual health care costs.

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For reasons too numerous to recount here, those days are forever gone. Increasingly, we are on our own, and the trend lines of health care inflation guarantee that in the short run no new white knights can afford to come to our rescue. Nonprofit groups such as ProPublica are stepping up to publicize health costs. Likewise, advocacy groups have been creating consumer-generated health ranking systems, price tools and other measures of consumer health care costs. Online communications and social media provide unprecedented ways to empower consumer voices.

This transition is in its infancy. We must nourish and support it. As Ms. Austin has done, we need to keep making those phone calls, keep asking the right questions and keep pushing for the consumer rights that should naturally accrue to the people who pay the bills.

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