Fix by turning it into Turbotax

Go to Look for the File Now button to file your taxes. You’ll find a list of options for filing, including software companies providing tax filing web sites and software. The IRS makes fillable online tax forms, and the instructions for completing them – so why not cut out the middleman and deliver a free tax filing portal? is just the latest answer to that question – the government has a poor track record of delivering technology solutions, with IRS, FBI, and DHS systems as just a few examples of failure [1].

The department (Health & Human Services) managing the Obamacare rollout should take a lesson from the IRS: if you set the rules, and let the private market deliver the software, you can offload the expense and risk of technology development while still receiving the benefits of automation. Turbotax and its competitors receive not one dime from the IRS, and yet have taken a huge share in the multi-billion dollar tax filing preparation market. In addition, these companies have agreed to give their software away for free to low-income individuals, eliminating any criticism on fairness or access grounds. could easily move to the same model, and here’s the crazy part – several companies, including and, already have healthcare exchanges certified to sell ACA plans WITH subsidies! While any licensed insurance agent (including websites) can sell ACA-compliant policies, a handful have built out their technology to work with the federal government and provide access to subsidized ACA insurance. Rather than competing with these firms, could terminate many of its bloated IT contracts and simply list certified private exchanges on its site. These exchanges would provide a free shopping experience for consumers, and earn a commission on policies sold in a manner similar to the financing system for itself [2]. Let HHS & CMS employees set and administer the rules of the ACA, and leave the exchanges themselves to the private sector – leading to benefits for taxpayers and health insurance shoppers alike.

[1] This paper found that 70% of government-run software projects failed to meet stated objectives. Government contract reform has become a hot topic as a result of’s failure, but these problems have been going on for years.

[2] The ACA exchanges will charge insurers 3.5% of each policy premium sold on exchanges to finance the marketplace. While this “user fee” is lower than the commissions many private insurance brokers receive, many would likely still jump at the opportunity given the size of the new market on offer (perhaps 7 million individual policies through 2014).

US Doctors Are Overeducated

US medical students study for 8 years prior to residency, compared to 5-6 years of study in the rest of the world. This discrepancy increases health care costs by $25 Billion annually without contributing to quality.

In the UK, medical students study for five years after high school before beginning residency. They can expect to become practicing doctors by their late 20’s. This is true in Australia as well, where it’s possible to become a practicing doctor after less than 10 years of post-secondary education.

In much of Europe, medical students study for 4-6 years before beginning vocational training, and this process is slowly being standardized throughout the EU. Finally, in Japan, Brazil, China, India, and many other countries, medical education involves a 5-6 year degree followed by optional specialty training.

Since medical students in the US have a career path two years longer than in most other countries, their initial salary requirements must inevitably be higher to compensate for two years of extra tuition and lost salary. Using a career ROI calculation, it’s possible to estimate that US doctors must be paid an additional $30,000 per year as a result of this additional schooling [1]. With roughly 800,000 physicians in the US, that amounts to $25 Billion per year in additional compensation!

Why does the US stand almost alone in requiring aspiring doctors to study for eight years before training for another 3-8 years prior to practicing medicine? Is it possible that American doctors are better at their profession as a result? In fact, a small number of accelerated six-year medical programs exist in the US, and these programs have extremely competitive admissions. In a 6 year program, typical Bachelors-level general college education is curtailed while still accommodating a full four years of medical school. This model should become the norm rather than the exception, enabling medical students to enter careers more quickly and with less, thereby saving the entire health care system money!

[1] Using the spreadsheet used to perform Career ROI calculations, we can first adjust the medical student’s career path to shorten it by two years. This will raise the NPV and rate of return. We can then lower the expected salary to the point that the NPV is equivalent to the original NPV – the difference in salary is the salary amount made necessary by the extra schooling.

Healthcare Bubble

Dot com bubble. Real estate bubble. Commodities bubble. Healthcare bubble? How can the US healthcare system be a bubble when tens of millions are uninsured and more people fall through the cracks daily? The media, public, and politicians alike have been more concerned with the inadequacies of the system than with its rapid growth. US healthcare spending has grown enormously, exceeding the rate of inflation for decades to become the largest sector of the US economy. The United States now spends over 16% of its GDP on healthcare, almost double the average for developed nations.

Perhaps Americans just demand the best and priciest healthcare, with the most modern technology and treatments. Other insurance prices are on a steep rise, including home, accidental and auto insurance. If Americans paid for healthcare themselves, this would simply represent a rational spending choice. But the federal government now incurs 60% of all healthcare spending, meaning that taxpayers, and not individuals, pay for most of our healthcare. Medicare, Medicaid, and other direct government healthcare accounts for 46% of healthcare spending, while tax breaks on healthcare subsidize another 10-15% of healthcare spending [1].

At current growth rates, government healthcare spending will exceed the entire Federal budget by 2050 [2]. Total spending on healthcare will near one-third of GDP by 2030. It’s unlikely that the US can devote 1/3rd of all productive capacity to healthcare without crippling other sectors of the economy and reducing overall economic growth. The healthcare bubble thus dwarfs all previous bubbles in size, since the technology, real estate, and energy sectors are all so much smaller.

How will the bubble pop, and what will its effects be? Since most healthcare spending is federal, the bubble will pop when the government can no longer afford its healthcare outlays. The US has been able to borrow freely by issuing debt for many decades, but this will eventually end once our debt exceeds GDP. With the current downturn, government debt may actually exceed GDP by 2015 [3]. Thus the reckoning may come sooner than many expect.

Will healthcare reform contain costs and deflate the bubble gradually? Most reform plans focus more on increased coverage than on cost control, so they may exacerbate the problem. Eventually the hard choices will have to be made, and they will include some combination of reducing Medicare benefits, cutting provider reimbursements, openly rationing government health care, and limiting the tax break on health insurance. I just hope that some of the hard choices are made before we are collectively up against a fiscal wall.

[1] $200 Billion in taxes are foregone as a result of the employer-based healthcare tax deduction, equivalent to 10% of all healthcare spending. When this subsidy is included the government’s share of healthcare spending rises to 56%. This analysis does not include the exemptions on property taxes and sales taxes that healthcare providers receive; adding these subsidies in would likely drive the government’s share of health care spending over 60%.

[2] The CBO predicts that Medicare and Medicaid will account for 14% of GDP by 2050. This figure doesn’t include healthcare spending through the VA system, SCHIP program, and other federal healthcare programs, which total $100 Billion in spending today. If these programs also grow commensurately, total government spending may near 18% of GDP in 2050, roughly equivalent to total government revenue.

[3] This projection of public debt growth shows that US government debt will exceed gdp by 2050. This only takes into account debt held by the public, however. Gross government debt is already above 65% of GDP, and may grow to 75% by the end of 2010 as a result of the recession and stimulus spending. With deficits of $500B+ per year possible for several year, US total government debt could exceed gdp in less than 10 years.

US Healthcare Reform: Possible Choices

The United States’ health care system is a patchwork of private care, Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for some of the poor, and emergency-only care for the 47M uninsured. Both presidential candidates insist that change is needed, with increased coverage and decreased costs as primary goals. Neither candidate mentions how public dollars will be rationed, though government resources are limited.

Here’s a list of a range of health care systems in place around the world, with the most market-oriented systems listed first, and the most government controlled systems listed last. The future of American health care will mostly take the form of one of the middle options, as both extremes appear politically unpalatable.

US Health Care System Choices:

Health Care System Description Found Where
Traditional Free Market Little government intervention, patients pay health care providers directly. Those without financial means rely on charity hospitals or receive no care. India, many developing countries
Public Senior Care + Semi-Free Market The government provides health care for seniors, while others rely on a regulated private health insurance market (whether purchased individually or through an employer). United States
Public Care for Children and Seniors The government provides health care for seniors and children, while others rely primarily on the private health insurance market (whether purchased individually or through an employer). Barack Obama’s health care plan approximates this
Mandatory Health Insurance The government requires that all individuals purchase health insurance, and provides subsidies to assist the poor and unhealthy in purchasing coverage. Massachusetts, Hillary Clinton’s Plan
Dual Public-Private System The government provides health care for all residents not enrolled in private care, and provides incentives for employers to provide health care and for individuals to purchase care. Individuals may also pay extra to supplement their basic government plan. Australia
Single Payer, Private Premium Care The government provides health care for all residents, and individuals can choose to pay extra for premium health care services (like private rooms, experimental treatments, etc). France, other European countries
Single Payer Only The government pays for all health care, and does not allow private market health care transactions. Canada