Monthly Archives: January 2018

Working Americans are using less health care, but spending more

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Americans who get health insurance through their jobs are not using more medical care than they were five years ago, but they are spending more due to soaring medical prices, according to a new report.

Health spending for the more than 150 million people who receive insurance through their employers was $5,407 per person in 2016. That is a 4.6 percent increase over 2015, even though people’s use of almost every broad category of care dropped or stayed the same over a five-year period, according to a new analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit funded by the insurance industry.

The report, built on claims data from 39 million people who receive insurance through their employers, found especially sharp increases in the prices of emergency room visits, surgeries and drugs administered in doctors’ offices.

The number of emergency room visits increased modestly between 2012 and 2016, by 2 percent. Meanwhile, the average price of those visits soared 31 percent, to $1,917. Admissions to the hospital for surgery dropped 16 percent over that period, but the average price increased to $41,702, or a 30 percent jump. The price of physician-administered drugs, such as infusions for chemotherapy, increased by 42 percent.

Utilization of brand name prescription drugs dropped, but overall spending increased due to price increases, according to the data — which does not take into account rebates and coupons. For example, utilization of brand name drugs for skin diseases dropped by 42 percent, but prices increased by 165 percent.

[The uninsured are overusing emergency rooms — and other health-care myths]

“The health-care cost curve, at least for the employer-sponsored insurance population, seems to be trending in the wrong direction again,” said Niall Brennan, president of the Health Care Cost …read more


What destroyed Venezuela’s economy could destroy ours too

By Matt O’Brien

Anti-government protesters clash with police in Caracas, Venezuela. (Miguel Gutierrez/EPA)

Venezuela’s government has managed to turn the country with the world’s largest oil reserves into a pauper state where food is scarce, violence is abundant and money is worthless.

Despite that, however, its grip on power still seems strong. It has packed the courts, bullied the press and replaced the opposition-led legislature with a much more pliant one filled solely with regime apparatchiks. Not even mass protests have been able to stop this slide into authoritarianism. Why not? Because Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela has learned what Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe did a decade ago: that you can get people to stick with you no matter what if they think your opponents are their enemies.

It turns out, then, that revolutions do not live by bread alone. They need polarization, too.

That’s the only way to explain the otherwise inexplicable fact that the two of the most economically destructive governments in recent memory have also been two of the longest-lasting. Indeed, Venezuela has the world’s worst inflation rate, second-worst unemployment rate, third-worst murder rate and 10th-worst corruption score. To give you an idea of how dire things are, the International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation is more than 1,100 percent right now and will get up to more than 2,000 percent by year’s end. (The government, of course, doesn’t bother publishing its own figures anymore). This has meant death for the nation’s currency. It lost 99.7 percent of its value, going by black market prices, from the start of 2012 to the end of 2016, and then another 98.3 percent since. Altogether that’s a 99.99 percent drop over the past six years. Which, as my colleague Anthony Faiola reports, is how something as simple as a Transformers toy could end up being worth 10 months of …read more


In a first, only women will lead Davos — an elite meeting of mostly men

By Danielle Paquette


Nearly every year for the past three decades, heads of state, chief executives, top economists and other celebrities have swarmed Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, which kicks off again Monday.

The Alpine gathering is billed as a place where the sharpest minds debate Earth’s loftiest problems, including war and environmental decline. The themes have changed over time, but one trait has persisted: Davos is dominated by men. So much so that the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s nickname for the global elite, coined in 2004 and still widely used, is the Davos Man.

The 2018 cast of seven co-chairs comes as a twist. For the first time in the forum’s history, all the top Davos Men are women. There’s a union boss, a nuclear physicist, two company heads, a financial organization leader, an economist and the prime minister of Norway.

The all-women leadership team presides over the conference after a weekend of women’s rallies in the U.S. and around the world against the gender pay gap and other issues — and a year of fierce public debate about sexual harassment.

The gender transformation at the top of the conference does little to improve its overall ratio. Just 21 percent of the roughly 3,000 participants this year are women, the forum said. That’s a slight uptick from 20 percent in 2017, 18 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015. It’s way up from 9 percent in 2002.

The imbalance is not specific to Davos.

“That is a mirror of how this community looks like in the world at large,” said Peter Vanham, a forum spokesman.

Although female representation in the upper ranks of business and politics has grown in recent years — Iceland just made it illegal for companies to pay men more than women in …read more