Happy holidays, your gift is medical debt forgiveness

Medical debt can easily be characterized as out of hand in the US, considering there’s more than $750B in past-due bills floating around out there. Two New Yorkers decided to buck the stereotype of being stingy and spent some time raising money to make that number just a bit smaller. So they raised $12,500… which, to be fair, is way more than I have in my checking account in any time, but is not going to help a ton of people out. Enter RIP Medical Debt, a charity started by former debt collectors (boo) who now buy medical debt portfolios en masse and forgive them (yay!) That $12,500 allowed the charity to buy $1.5M in medical debts, and gave 1,284 New Yorkers a surprise Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Year-End gift. Talk about a feel-good story.

Putting faith in a faith-based plan

A common theme in recent InsightCity stories is that if the market isn’t delivering the product consumers want, they’ll go and make it themselves. Turns out, the same thing applies for insurance. Some Americans fed up with the current system of high premiums and high deductibles are instead opting for health care sharing ministries. Essentially, these are groups that share healthcare costs amongst themselves but don’t accept risk and can deny coverage if you sustain injury doing something immoral, like crashing while drunk driving. And they’re growing; the IRS noted membership increases of 74 percent from 2014 to 2016, while a trade association for the groups cites nearly a million members. So maybe they’re just for the chosen few but expect to see them around.

Social determinants of health

As insurers attempt to set health plan prices, they understandably try to pull in as much info as they can get their hands on. But patient advocates say they could be going too far by collecting ‘lifestyle data.’ That’s the subject of an NPR/ProPublica story on how providers are amassing a trove of data on consumers’ “race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth … what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online.” Insurers say they’re just using the data to improve patient outcomes, while companies that sell this data to insurers say it shouldn’t be used for pricing. But there’s not technically anything that would stop them from doing so, which is encouraging. Makes you want to live in Europe (kinda.)

Day late? At least a dollar short

Nearly one-third of US workers don’t get paid sick leave, and it might not surprise you that those workers are more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. But it’s a little more surprising when that correlation holds up when controlling for education, race, sex, marital status and—most importantly—employment. In fact, those workers are three times more likely to have poverty incomes than peers who do get paid sick leave, according to new research by Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University. The study authors attribute the income gap to lack of preventative care, missed wages, and everyone’s favorite social ill—the rise of healthcare costs.  If you’re sick and still have to show up to work, hopefully these sick memes can help you out.

I want my 80-grand back

A recent study conducted by Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, set out to answer the question: “Why is health care spending in the US so much greater than in other high-income countries?” To do this, his team compared healthcare data from the US with those of 10 of the highest-income countries. Some background: In 2016, the US spent 17.8% of its GDP on health care, and spending in the other countries ranged from 9.6% (Australia) to 12.4% (Switzerland). The net-net: “utilization rates in the US were largely similar to those in other nations. Prices of labor and goods, including pharmaceuticals, and administrative costs appeared to be the major drivers of the difference.” Admin costs seem like a bad place to spend money, so in the immortal words of Leslie Chow, “give me my 80-grand back.” [WARNING: Language]

Killer of bad guys

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent issues affecting healthcare, costing thousands of lives and billions in medical costs each year (click here for the CDC’s list of the scariest strains.) It’s an annoying problem. R&D produces a new antibiotic and within some years the little buggers have already figured out how to not get killed by it (very sick video of that process here.) Well at least we have a new weapon that they might have some trouble fighting against. Malacidin is a distant relative of a newer antibiotic called daptomycin which up until now has evaded bacterial resistance. While discovering a new antibiotic is immediately cool and helpful, discovering a class that can avoid being useless after its introduction would be huge.