Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Medical Education Bubble Portends Lower Health Care Cost Inflation?

The Disease Management Care Blog spent part of its day in front of its internet enabled World Headquarters' computer screens. As a result, it was able to tune into todays dreary Sebelius Senate Finance Committee testimony.

It wish it hadn't. Between the spin, gotcha's and speechifying, it's obvious that the political rancor is here to stay. And in the end, it makes little difference who is "wrong" or "right" about Presidential reinterpretations of the history about "keeping your plan" or some regulation about "grandfathering." What is more disconcerting is how the partisan divide is gumming up the gears of a well-intentioned if flawed piece of legislation that is now hitting one fifth of the U.S. economy.

Which makes this New England Journal article on the possibility of a "medical education bubble" so timely. According to David Asch et al, "bubbles" occur when a product (in this case the training to be a practicing physician) far outstrips the underlying economic demand (i.e., physician services). Based on this chart that trends medical educational debt to income, student debt has gone up, while future income potential is stalling. In other words, there is a growing disconnect between what physicians can charge patients and what medical schools are charging their students.

The DMCB was not surprised at the rising cost of medical school and financial sacrifices necessary to do a residency, but it was less aware of how slowing health care costs are playing out in our nation's medical schools.

The good news is that this bubble is another indication of slowing health care inflation.

Most agree that the individual insurance market was broken, Medicare's expenses remain ultimately unsustainable and Obamacare will continue a long-established trend of making consumers assume a greater share of health care costs thanks to significant out-of-pocket expenses. The bubble phenomenon suggests we may be getting a handle on that.

Bad for medical schools, but good for the country - especially since the tenor of today's hearing suggest Congress is unlikely to come up with any new solutions in the near term.

1 comment:

Bradley Dean Stephan said...

I too watched the proceedings and appreciate your fair-minded assessment. It's like repairing an automobile when the mechanics are in a fist fight - the only outcome is mis-repair of the car. How do we repair healthcare when elected officials can't agree upon root causes? Wait until one party attains a clear majority?
Also - what's your solution for the high cost of medical education? Public funding, whether at the federal, state or local level? How about ACO funding? Or, are we trying to cram a square peg into a round hole? I.e., should those specialties with high debt-income ratios be replaced with lower-cost 'physician extenders'?