Filed under: Consumer-Directed Health Plans, Global Health Care
The impoverished of the world, at present, freely considering their options in a market economy, have taken to selling their kidneys, valued at roughly $160,000 on the less than open market, to kidney brokers for the approximate sum of, give or take, $10,000.
At present one may sell a body part legally only in Iran. Thus, as anyone steeped in the strict virtues of Chicago School economics would tell you, the Market in Kidneys suffers at present from “distortions.” The problem, of course, is two fold: the almost universal illegality has added risk to the cost; and limited access to the market has allowed the brokers, through government interference and lack of open competition, to exclude others from their fair share of the profit.
The Kidney Exchange
Patterned after the stock exchange (or perhaps the commodity exchange is a more apt analog), I propose we create, as part of a market driven health reform initiative, a Kidney Exchange. Value maximization will ensure the free flow of kidneys into the most appropriate markets and the most appropriate recipients.
In the interest of fairness and transparency, full reports on each putative “donor” will be submitted to the exchange by medical clinicians who (as is the current practice among medical device researchers) will be paid in stock options in the subjects of their examinations. This stake in the endeavor will ensure commitment to the process. These reports will function as the basis for prospectus and, in the case of those not yet ready for immediate harvest, ongoing quarterly reports.
We would not, of course, limit the purchase of kidneys to those who “need” the actual kidneys, as that too would tend to skew the market. “Need” must be determined through the time-tested criteria of the market: availability of, and a willingness to use, investment capital.
Because, however, even with the most thorough information that money can buy, things can on occasion go awry, we will need a market instrument to ensure protection in the event of failure. Kidney Default Swaps (KDS), an insurance of sorts keyed to whether or not the putative “donor” ultimately tenders a viable kidney. Further, KDS could be patterned after the Credit Default Swap–in that we can allow investors with no connection or insurable interest in the transaction to wager freely on the ultimate outcome–thus creating another lucrative market.
Of course, to combat inefficiencies, a wholesale market will ultimately develop, procurement and development syndicates will be set up, and branded groups of similar subjects will be packaged together for large investors like collateralized mortgage securities.
This investor/market driven approach will further ensure the development of a “Pipeline” to enhance quality and dismiss with the vagaries of procurement.
And lest we forget the benefit to the “donor,” the market too will provide for it. Obviously, anyone who has invested a handsome sum in 4 year old boys from Pakistan (“Pak-Neph B4, b. type O+, trading at…”) will have great interest in safeguarding his investment–nourishing well those kidneys until they are ready for harvest upon demand.
Considering the environmental risks involved for the “free range” donor in many prime but impoverished areas, “harvest banks” to house homegrown investments will, of course, be built. Within the sterile confines of such banks, subjects will grow, watered and fed and exercised to ensure sufficient blood flow and proper kidney function. Subjects kept thus would of course demand a premium on the open market.
Furthermore, upon harvest and release into world, such harvest bank subjects can also readily be expected to breed. Uneducated and untrained in any vocation (market contraindicated) one can reasonably expect them to turn over for modest profit the products of their breeding to the market for eventual harvesting–thus ensuring a steady supply of prime kidneys for generations to come. Naturally, the best genetic lines of kidneys will be identified–arrangements can be made (“Pak-Neph B14/Braz-NephG16, b. type AB+, trading at…), profits in accord.
The addition to one’s portfolio of such financial instruments as “Kidney Futures” or “Kidney Options,” will, I believe, prove a handsome reward to savvy holders. And a thriving business in Kidneys could well be just the market innovation that this economy needs to pull it out of its current doldrums. A Kidney Exchange will provide a swift feast of employment and real wealth. And of course, we need not be limited to kidneys, there are many other organs that the poor do not, and cannot, use to best advantage.
280 years have passed since Jonathan Swift offered his “Modest Proposal” for solving the pangs of poverty in Catholic Ireland through the sale and eating of Irish babies. Consider this an update of sorts.
There is, however, one distinction between the Swift model that is worth noting: considering the high market value of Irish babies, Swift proposes a preference in procurement for ravenous English Landlords:
I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have best title to the children.
A Kidney Exchange, less sentimental but more modern, would, of course, put the preference where the invisible hand of the market deems it best (though under Swift’s criteria the IMF, and World Bank would seem to be the sentimental favorites). In this way it would allow, as we do now with private health insurance, that most efficient of instruments, the market, to decide who lives or dies.
 Swift notes that before the age of 12, Irish children were not particularly saleable or employable, and that “They can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old.” His solution stems from the following: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my aquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.” His modest proposal: “I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed…. That the remaining hundred thousand may at a year old be offered in sale to persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table.”
The full title of the piece is “A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People In Ireland From Being A Burden To Their Parents Or Country, And For Making Them Beneficial To The Public.” Though most noted for his relatively benign Gulliver’s Travels, Swift’s Modest Proposal helped make him a hero among the Irish.
Filed under: Consumer-Directed Health Plans, Health Care Economics, Proposed Legislation
With Black Friday done and out of the way, one cannot help but wonder if any Americans were bargain hunting for health coverage. After all, barring exigent circumstances, in the current health care market, shopping around to compare prices seems like an economically sensible thing to do. Individual health care plans have been charging higher and higher premiums; the rate of uninsured Americans is increasing, and those who are insured increasingly face greater deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. Price can make a real difference.
One uninsured women in Seattle used PriceDoc.com to comparison shop to see which health care providers in her area provided the cheapest gynecological exam. She said that the only real comparisons she made while searching for health care was price. In the end, the Seattle woman was able to access what she considered to be quality care at a price she could afford. But there is that old joke about the perils of looking for bargains in parachutes and brain surgeons to consider. A sheer price comparison implies fungible service.
Congress members are currently in the process of doing their own bargain hunting for health care that won’t break the country’s bank. While Republicans are said to fear that insurance premiums will increase under the proposed health reform models– partly due to increased taxes on insurers, Democrats counter that the strict regulations to be imposed on insurance companies will drive costs down. Democrats further talk about the benefits of the health care exchange model, in which the individual market will not be able to deny coverage or charge higher premiums based on preexisting conditions, age rating, or gender rating. The Center for Studying Health System Change says that these rules, if set in place, will directly lower the premiums that people with medical problems and women will pay.
The Obama Administration has commended the House and Senate bills for incorporating cost-cutting tools. As a guideline for measuring the cost-effectiveness of the health reform proposals, the Obama Administration has identified four pillars– as found in Ronald Brownstein’s “A Milestone In the Health Care Journey.” Those pillars are:
1. Taxes on high-end health insurance plans;
2. Payment reforms that focus on incentivizing doctors to provide quality, coordinated care;
3. An independent Medicare commission to contain costs; and
4. A bill that is at least deficit-neutral over the next ten years.
The House and Senate bills incorporate each of the pillars to varying degrees, with the Senate bill thus far the most inclusive. Congress members say that such principles–and specifics– will be heavily discussed in the coming weeks of debate.
While Americans wait for reform to ring in easier times, they may, however, be left to fend for themselves. In case you were hoping to give the gift of better health care to a loved one, check here to compare plans, and use these helpful tips to save money on health care. And don’t forget to schedule necessary appointments to use what’s left of your current health care allowances before benefits get taken away by the start of a new year!
Filed under: Consumer-Directed Health Plans, Global Health Care, Health Reform, Nathan Cortez
Last week, I took a break from U.S. health reform and attended a fascinating conference on Health Care and EU Law at Radboud University in the Netherlands. It gave me the chance to step back and revisit a struggle common to most health care systems — the appropriate role for market competition. Without drawing too many parallels here, the view from 30,000 feet confirms that like the United States, European health care systems (varied as they are) must decide the extent to which health care is an economic, commercial product versus a non-economic, public good.
In Europe, this tension is generated by the European Union’s internal common market of 27 member states. European law — enunciated through treaties, directives, regulations, and decisions by the European Court of Justice — prohibits states from restricting the free movement of goods, persons, and services within the EU, and bans anti-competitive or protectionist arrangements.
But is health care a commercial product subject to these market rules? Or can member states control their health care systems without worrying whether it restricts free movement or is anti-competitive? Although EU law says that states shall retain responsibility for managing services of general interest like health care and social security, case law has bounded this authority in several high-profile free movement and competition cases. For example, a series of court opinions has held that member states have limited authority to prevent their residents from traveling to other member states for health care, or even to require prior authorization before reimbursing for that care back in the home state. Read more