SEP 20, 2012 2:35pm ET

Financial Healthcare Chickens Getting Close to Home—Literally

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The Chicago Tribune published a story today that should give members of Congress—and the constituents they serve—pause. Having been on a medical leave of absence for three months, Chicago Congressman Jess Jackson Jr. has put his townhome on the market for $2.5 million. Reason? “Recent medical expenses related to his battle with bipolar disorder,” the Tribune reports.

Now we don’t know other details, and the Jackson camp has been pretty reticent about sharing much information about his hospitalization at Mayo Clinic.  And it won’t divulge any particulars on the Congressman’s health care expenses. But I can’t imagine the Jacksons unloading their swank D.C. townhome unless it was absolutely necessary.

Readers of Health Data Management know first-hand just how high those expenses can be. Hospital and group practice leaders across the country are grappling with the issue every day, looking for ways to constrain costs. And Jackson’s colleagues in Congress have been grappling too—mostly with each other over the best way to do it. The opposition to President Obama’s reform legislation won’t let up, and Mitt Romney promises to repeal the law if elected (assuming of course he will have the Congressional oomph needed—a mighty big assumption at best).

But there are many parts of the Obama package that aren’t going away anytime soon—even if the Republicans regain control of Washington. That point was made by several speakers at The Advisory Board CFO Summit last week in the nation’s capitol, an event I was privileged to attend. Frederick Isasi, a senior policy advisor at the research firm, noted that the Republicans likely won’t overturn the fundamental changes in reimbursement models the legislation champions.  “GOP won’t touch bundling, or shared savings,” he said. “Just because they oppose the insurance exchanges, doesn’t mean they would kill ACO type models. They may just call it ‘freedom care,’ not ‘accountable care.’”

The irony is that many people on the left assume that members of Congress—and other financial elites—don’t have to worry about health care costs because they have such cushy arrangements to protect them. The sad news on Rep. Jackson demonstrates that when it comes to crushing medical bills, even those ostensibly well-protected are at risk.

Many consumers facing runaway health care costs can relate to Jackson. But what about all the uninsured people who face an insurance purchasing mandate, and will have to pay a “tax” if they don’t participate in the plan that Jackson and his Democratic Party peers pushed so hard to get?
 
It’s hard to say what the general public response will be. But I do agree with the overall drift of Romney’s “personal responsibility” theme—even if the man is utterly clueless how to express himself and has developed the most peculiar form of amnesia about his own reform package that passed in Massaschusetts.

I’d love to hear Obama’s or Romney’s thoughts on one clause won by the Chicago Teachers Union—whose highly publicized strike ended this week. In the same issue reporting on Jackson’s financial woes, there’s a small nugget about one of the contract terms the union won: “Other wins during the walkout included: smokers or teachers with spouses who smoke would not be punished by paying a premium differential under the health plan.” Perhaps someone could explain to me exactly how being shielded from the health care costs of smoking is a win for anybody?

 

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