Actuaries are converging on Boston this week to explain to one another, in precise, carefully checked mathematical terms, just what is going on with the U.S. health care system.
The Society of Actuaries (SOA), Schaumburg, Ill., has attracted about 900 attendees to the latest annual SOA Health Meeting with sessions about topics such as the causes for recent increases in medical costs, the reasons for the big difference in health care spending levels in the United States and in comparable countries, and how actuaries now involved in health insurance underwriting will make a living if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) succeeds at eliminating individual and small group medical underwriting.
In Boston, comics are known for “bringing the funny.” The SOA meeting presenters have brought the data, and the SOA has presented written versions of many of the presentations on its website, at http://www.soa.org.
Edward McEllin entertained attendees at the international health care experience session with a true story about Kim Beazley, Australia’s new ambassador to the United States. When Beazley slipped on the ice and hurt his knees, his care cost about $35,000, or 4 times as much as it would have cost in Australia, according to Australian press reports.
Even the actuaries had difficulty pinpointing just why U.S. health care is so much more expensive than care in the rest of the world. National macroeconomic drivers include inflation, economic growth, advances in technology and changes in health care supply, according to John Cookson, who spoke at a medical drivers session.
Cookson gave the cost of the capital that health care providers and other players in the system need to operate and grow as another, somewhat less obvious driver.
Tom Handley, another speaker at the medical trends session, noted that private health insurers are picking up about 34% of the U.S. health care tab, which is similar to the share of health care expenditures they handled in 1985. Consumers only pay 13% of the bills out of pocket, down from 23% in 1985.