Melissa Thomasson on This American Life on health insurance

Lynne Kiesling

The NPR Planet Money folks do a great job of communicating complicated economic ideas with more nuance and sophistication than any other media folks around. The most recent episode of This American Life is an outstanding example:

392: Someone Else’s Money

This week, we bring you a deeper look inside the health insurance industry. The dark side of prescription drug coupons. A story about Pet Health Insurance, which is in its infancy, and how it is changing human behaviors—for example, if you have the pet health insurance, you bring your pet to the vet more often, and the vet makes more money and…well, you can see the parallels. And insurance company jargon, frighteningly decoded.

Overall it was a very good analysis of various aspects of health insurance. In particular, in Act 2 they interviewed Melissa Thomasson, an economic historian who teaches at my alma mater (yay!), and who is the foremost expert on the history of the health care and health insurance industries in the 20th century. Even if you don’t listen to the rest of the show, Melissa’s contribution is more than worth your time and attention; she explains the evolution of employer-provided health insurance more clearly than I’ve ever heard anyone do before. Both Melissa and the hosts draw the conclusion, with which I agree, that employer-provided health insurance is, at best, “questionable”. It’s an absolute must-listen.