Watch Out! Economists Have Advice for You on Health Care!

Surely the Obamacare saga has convinced us that the U.S. health care system is complicated, beyond comprehension especially for many who depend upon it. In this Sunday’s NY Times Business Section, true to a tradition of publishing fol-de-rol masquerading as sober, legitimate analysis, a Nobel-prize winning economist presents a way to make it inescapably opaque.

Richard H. Thaler sets out to tell us Why So Many People Choose the Wrong Health Plans. In one study, contrary to common wisdom, the employer-provided health insurance plan that would save employees the most money was the plan with relatively low premiums and high deductibles. Probably. But Thaler frets that only 11% of employees made this wise, if counter-intuitive, choice. By more carefully calculating the pro’s and cons of each choice, he suggests, workers could save, maybe, hundreds of dollars a year.

Oh, by the way: Workers could choose from among 48 different combinations of deductibles, prescription-drug co-payments, co-insurance rates and maximum out-of-pocket costs.

Wait, there’s more: His recommended plan choice “is especially likely [to be the best choice] if you are young and healthy,” and “If you can handle the possibility of a short-term financial shortfall of a couple thousand dollars for a few months early in the year…”

Puh-leeze. Maybe Thaler’s real, if obscure, purpose is to motivate a glide path to single-payer right after the mid-term elections. Sadly, neoliberal econometrics will likely remain on the scene, at least in Chicago, for at least a while longer. But the tender brains of a generally tense public can tolerate only so much. NY Times Business Editors, please note!

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