The gamification of health care


I know January is supposed to be a time of the-slate-has-been-wiped-clean optimism, but I’ve read a number of things in the first few weeks of 2019 that have left me feeling, well, despondent.

The first thing I read was a letter from my health insurer informing me of a new program called “Reduce My Costs.” Apparently, if I need one of a handful of outpatient, non-emergency tests or procedures (bone density study, radiology, ultrasound, lab work, mammogram, PT/OT, infusion therapy), I can call a nurse that works for my insurer to compare the cost of having these tests/procedures done with different providers in my area. If I choose to get care from the “lower-cost provider,” I will receive a cash reward. “The reward is in addition to money you save by using a lower-cost provider,” the letter reads.

The second thing I read was a story from Kaiser Health News about GoFundMe crediting medical expenses for about one-third of the $5 billion the company has raised in the past nine years that it has been in business. GoFundMe features a whopping 250,000-plus medical campaigns each year, according to the story.

The third thing was a story from CNBC about Apple being in talks with Medicare Advantage plans to bring its watch to at-risk seniors. “Health experts” tell CNBC the move makes sense since it could prevent pricey doctor or hospital visits. Apple has already signed a deal with Aetna and United Healthcare to subsidize the cost of watches.

In 10 years, what will we think of a healthcare system that features:

  • Health insurers providing incentives to members to try and control where they get their care.
  • Healthcare bills so astronomical that they have made crowdsourcing a fourth-party payer.
  • Health insurers incentivizing members to use technology to track their health, when they dis-incentivize them from accessing life-sustaining equipment like oxygen concentrators and ventilators.

I could just chalk this all up to seasonal affective disorder (we’re in Maine, don’t forget, and about to get up to 30 inches of snow on Sunday), but I think not.

It’s only January, so there is that. Let’s hope the news gets better in the next 11 months.