There is a tsunami media blitz about Steven Brill's new book, America's Bitter Pill. Is it because the book is really great or is it about marketing? We will know in a few weeks.
Steven Brill has also recently published an important article in Time magazine on the same subject. Both are called America’s Bitter Pill.
See: Zephyr Teachout’s book review of America’s Bitter Pill in the NY Times (1.9.15)
Time Magazine article: you need to have a subscription to read it online
NPR interview with Teri Gross (35 minutes)
The Bill by Malcolm Gladwell (review of the Brill book). New Yorker January 12, 2015 (Full Text Online) Gladwell, ever the contrarian, is less enamoured with Brill and his book than the others.
Excerpt from Terry Gross’ Interview of Steven Brill
“It's hard to understand why you get 36 different first-class envelopes with 36 different pieces of paper from the same insurance company on the same day. That tells you something about the efficiency of the health care industry right there. But then, as you open each envelope, they're as completely unintelligible to me as they are to you, as they are to everyone listening. But better yet, they're also as unintelligible, apparently, to the people who write them.
I got to do what is probably a reporter's dream ... which is I took one of those explanations of benefits, which said, "Amount billed: zero. Amount insurance company paid: zero." And the third column said, "Amount you owe: $154." So it makes no sense.
But here's what I got to do: I had scheduled, as part of the reporting for my book, an interview with the CEO of United Healthcare, the largest health insurance company in the United States — and my health insurance company, as it turns out. I went out to Minnesota to interview him and asked him all kinds of questions about what he thought the impact of the Obama health reform was likely to be. And at the end, I took that explanation of benefits out of my suit pocket and said, "I'm wondering if you could do me a favor, could you explain this to me?" ... "How can I owe $154 if nothing was billed?" He looks at it ... and looks up at me and says, "I could sit here all day and I couldn't explain that to you. I have no idea why they sent this to you."
Summation of NPR Interview:
GROSS: So we started our conversation by talking about your experiences as a patient and the bills that you got when you had open-heart surgery. So now being an expert on the history of Obamacare, on billing practices and on being a patient, if you could make one change what would it be?
BRILL: Well, it would be three. You take the people who provide the kind of care that I saw firsthand in my own situation, and you put them in charge. You let them expand. You let major hospital systems expand, and you let them provide their own insurance. I'd rather buy my insurance from New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York or Yale New Haven because that's a brand I trust. And then you regulate them like crazy to make sure that they live up to their promises, and you control their profits. And at the same time, you regulate the cost of drugs, and you provide significant malpractice reform.
The NPR piece is a great interview and compliments the Time article. The latter is not available online at this point.
There is a lot of important information in these resources. If you are busy with many other things, start with Zephyr Teachout’s book review (online) and the Time magazine article that your local library will have. I wonder, though, is this "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing? Or is this "divinest sense?"