I do most of my grocery shopping at Kings Supermarket, the one on Route 23. It’s bigger than the one in Upper Montclair so there’s a larger variety and it’s less claustrophobic. At the same time it’s smaller than the ShopRite and PathMark stores near me and usually less crowded so it’s a more pleasant place to shop. I think Kings’ prices are in line with those of the larger stores perhaps a few cents cheaper but it’s been worth it to me to have a nicer shopping experience. Now Kings is revamping its product line, however, and attempting to bring prices down. I still do most of my shopping there but I’m beginning to feel like they have too many products on the shelves with too-short expiration dates and I’m not always totally happy with their meats. I just found a butcher shop in Upper Montclair so I may try buying meat there next time. I think they’re a little more expensive but I’ll have to do some comparison shopping to be sure - and then decide if the extra money is buying me better quality.
I don’t do all my shopping at Kings. I like the 365 Day brand olive oil from Whole Foods so I’ll run in there every so often and stock up on that. When I’m in there I also like to pick up a bag of their 365 Day Salt and Pepper Potato Chips - yum! I used to buy more groceries from Whole Foods but once Kings realized how popular some of their stuff was they started carrying it. So now I can buy my soy sour cream from Kings. And, of course, almost every store now carries soy milk. That’s still cheaper at Whole Foods than anywhere else but it’s not enough cheaper to make a separate trip worth the gas and time. I made a wonderful Five Cheese Penne for my husband’s birthday last year and Whole Foods had the best selection of the cheeses I needed for that.
If I need a lot of canned goods - tomatoes, beans - or a lot of non-food items - aluminum foil, laundry detergent - I’ll run to ShopRite. I really don’t like their meat at all but I think they have slightly better prices on non-perishables so it’s worth it to me to make a trip there if I’m going to stock up. They also have a much better selection of Duncan Hines cake mixes than Kings so I’ll pick up a bunch of those while I’m there. ShopRite’s produce is usually quite good so if I’m in there anyhow I’ll buy what I need in the way of lettuce, apples, and so on. And if I want a wide selection of frozen foods - pizza, yum - ShopRite is much better than Kings. It used to not be worth it to run in there just to pick up a California Kitchens Margherita but now that they’ve installed self-checkout - and gotten the bugs out - it’s a breeze especially if I’m already in the area.
I used to hit the FoodTown further up Route 23 because I love Spice Islands spices and it was the only place around here that carried them. They don’t anymore so I never go there. I’ve pretty much adjusted to life with other spice brands - most of the Morton & Bassett brand spice are really good, their bay leaves are great, and the name of the spice is on top of the lid which is very handy is you’re looking down at rows of spices trying to find the one you want. Still I’ve never found a garlic powder that comes anywhere near Spice Islands; luckily I can order that over the Internet.
There is a PathMark near us but I really don’t like shopping there. Their shelves always seem to be understocked and they’re often out of the one thing on my list that I just have to have. However there’s a very nice little Italian deli close by that has wonderful bread and is often a stop to pick up rolls and turkey for lunch.
I love Trader Joe’s but there isn’t really one all that close - and the closest one is near a super-busy mall. I have vegan friends who shop there a lot and also hit a lot of Indian and Asian markets for more exotic ingredients. We do have a farmers’ market in town where I can find wonderful corn and those fabulous Jersey tomatoes during the summer. They also have a brief but incredibly delicious few weeks of peaches.
I buy flour tortillas at Kings but for corn tortillas I like the little corner store up the street. They sell them in packs of 25 or more and they’re always super fresh. There’s also a small liquor store very close to us but their selection is limited so for wine I go to the Wine Merchant. It’s handily in the same shopping center with the ShopRite so sometimes I run in there, too.
I’m sure that by this time you’re fascinated by my grocery shopping adventures - or at least ravenous. But you may be asking what this all has to do with health care and health insurance.
Health care is - or should be - like groceries: a great variety that can satisfy all needs at the best possible price. Health insurance companies are like grocery stores: they don’t produce health care but they are to all intents and purposes where we purchase it. Unfortunately health insurance companies function nothing like grocery stores. We can’t flit from company to company looking for the best deal on a treatment we want or need; we can’t comparison shop; we can’t decide we’ll pay a little more for this treatment because we want this particular doctor.
When I buy health insurance as it is currently structured, it’s as if I can now shop at one and only one grocery store. I get only the products that store chooses to carry. If I need something it doesn’t have, I’m out of luck - no Five Cheese Penne for a birthday dinner. If the store decides to start cutting corners on products, I’m out of luck - dinner may have to be whatever is going to expire tomorrow. If Spice Islands decides to stop doing business with the store I’m committed to, I’m out of luck - I spend my life eating inferior garlic bread.
If I get my health insurance through my employer, the situation is even worse. Now it’s as if I’m forced to buy all my groceries from a store I didn’t even get to pick myself - if my employer picks PathMark, too bad for me.
A free market in health care - like a free market in groceries - is a Very Good Thing. Consumers (patients) must decide whether a treatment is worth them spending their own money on. If they decide it is then they will pay careful attention to exactly what they are getting and exactly how much they are paying for it. They will comparison shop; they will seek out innovative products that provide better quality or lower costs or both. On the other side, many producers (health care providers) will compete to make their product better and lower priced. Others will strive to make their product outstanding so they can charge more for it. Some will find innovative ways to deliver services. Both consumers and producers benefit.
A free market in health insurance may or may not be a good thing but to me that’s irrelevant. Health insurance as currently structured deforms the free market in health care. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about private health insurance or public; traditional or HMO; catastrophic or first dollar. All our existing forms of health insurance are incompatible with a truly free market in health care.
In contrast, I believe the catastrophic health insurance plans of DeLong and Goldhill - if correctly structured - offer the possibility of providing the advantages of a free market in health care while avoiding the great danger of such a market: that in catastrophic situations, people will be unable to purchase the health care they need. That’s why I’ve already spent so much time analyzing their plans and why I’ll be spending even more time doing so.
Health 'Reform' Gets a Failing Grade: Read the whole thing but this is what jumped out at me:
Our health-care system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform.
The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.
The headline says it all (via TigerHawk): This post quotes Milton Friedman’s observations on the four ways to spend money. I contend that health insurance functions like a combination of the second and third ways. The insurance companies think like this:
Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost.
The policyholders think like this:
Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch!