INSURERS WILL BE...

INSURERS WILL BE INSURERS. To talk a bit more health care policy today, there's an interesting fight in New York between Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the UnitedHealthcare. UnitedHealthcare, a major insurance company, wants to begin rating doctors -- a service that will be appreciated by anyone who's ever tried to figure out which doctor to go to based off a list of names in the phone book. Cuomo wants to stop them, and is willing to go to court to do so.

At issue here is how you rate a doctor, and whether you can trust insurance companies to do so. In the past, insurer ratings have focused on cost alone, steering consumers to doctors who qualify based on little more than the low prices they charge insurers. The clear incentive, then, for a doctor wanting more business, is to cut corners and costs, not improve the quality of care.

Of course, this is what you'd expect insurers to do: Their job is to cut the amount of money they pay out for care, thus increasing profits and returns to shareholders. Rankings are just another way to pursue that goal. And there's nothing wrong, or immoral, in their actions. If what you want is health insurance that's focused not on returns, but on health, well, you need to create some institutions and structures with such incentives. Telling private corporations not to maximize their profits is a peculiar message indeed.

On a very lightly related note, Andrew Cuomo sure has been busy. In this press release, we find he's suing dating services whose upbeat name makes for a very awkward wording in a stern statement.

--Ezra Klein

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