Exploring Human Potential

The Simplification Movement in American Healthcare

Posted on | March 5, 2018 | 1 Comment

CDC Obesity Map

Mike Magee

As the debate over health care in America rages on, the great lie oft repeated but never defended is that our system is exceptional and too complex to wrestle to the ground. That is the breech, reinforced over half a century that has left our citizens and now our entire economy at risk. The truth is, the solution is rather clear, the resources available, and the liability of continued inaction of mounting concern.

How do we make America healthy? Before we address this critical baseline question, let’s first tackle another, “Why should we make America healthy?” The answer to this question could go on for pages but the short-hand response is that healthy citizens maximize human productivity and societal stability. If the idea is to make America as great as it can be, then healthy citizens are the starting point.

So, how do we make America (and Americans) healthy? Whatever we decide to create and provide in pursuit of this fundamental goal, it must be universally and simply available to all citizens. This is because we are an inter-dependent species. We are only as well, or as productive, effective and mutually supportive as the weakest link in our chain. Insecurity breeds insecurity. Fear and dislocation breeds fear and dislocation. Despair undermines our collective futures. So whatever we offer to promote and assure a healthy America must be available at the outset, and with certainty and simplicity, to each and every one of our citizens.

Logic dictates that the execution and management of this offering should be designed to consume as few resources as is humanly possible. The more we consume in the offering and financial management of universal basic health coverage the less will remain for actual services. This simple reality is why most nations have centralized the primary back room functionings of coverage and financial administration. Where most industrial nations (and our own Medicare) consume 5% to 10% of total health resources on this first step, our complex free-enterprise and employer dependent approach to the offering consumes as much as  25% of total resources while failing to ensure universal coverage.

If all must be covered, and the administration of the offering must be a public and centralized responsibility to assure accountability, uniformity, and cost-effectiveness, that leaves the definition of services and the actual delivery of services. These need not, and some would argue should not, be centralized. A basic package of services should be required of all, and not all services are affordable or even desirable. For example, Canadians universal health plan covers on average 70% of the total cost of health care for Canadians. The plan does not cover pharmaceuticals, optical needs or dentistry. Citizens who wish to can purchase private supplemental plans to cover these costs. Furthermore, plans total offerings vary from province to province, as defined by budgets and priorities set by provincial governments year to year. Hospitals are funded by the provinces, and doctors (who on average make more than American doctors) are largely reimbursed fee-for-service. Ample leeway, state to state, as we see with Medicaid, could be offered to allow a reasonable amount of experimentation and choice.

This combination of central control and management of insurance coverage and local responsibility for budgeting, prioritization, and quality assurance has consistently outperformed America’s purposefully complex free-enterprise health sector free-for-all for over a half century. Our complex approach under performs by almost every health measure, costs nearly twice as much, and has patient satisfaction ratings of only 25% in the latest polls. We have paid dearly for our complexity in funding an astonishing array of “non-real work”. We support nearly a half million individuals selling and managing health insurance in the US, and and equal number of hospital and physician office coders and billers on the other side working diligently to get payments from the mostly for-profit insurance companies.

But our fundamental error or conceit dates backs to 1947, as we exited WWII and considered how best to manage an enormous chronic burden of disease. Lead by Vannevar Bush, whose military approach to scientific collaboration had provided new blood products, penicillin, and the atomic bomb, our leaders concluded that a similar unencumbered collaborative free-enterprise approach could defeat disease as it had defeated the Nazis. By omission, their definition of health was the absense of disease. Defeat disease and health would be left in its wake. Fund the effort on the backs of employers and unions as a benefit, and ignite collaboration and a collusive integrated career pathways with federal dollars and enabling patent legislation and victory was assured.

In contrast, Canada took the time to earnestly ask “How do we make Canada (and all Canadians) healthy?” In response, they created universal coversal and continuously refined their answer to this basic question. By 2010, prevention, not intervention, surfaced as mission central. In their words: “Health promotion is everyone’s business. While it is clear that health services are a determinant of health, they are just one among many. Others include: environmental, social and economic conditions; access to education; the quality of the places where people live, learn, work and play; and community resilience and capacity.”

It really matters little whether Republicans prevail in their regressive efforts to reinforce over a half century of failed health care policy. The die has been cast. As Warren Buffett recently stated,  “Medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.” The cost and inefficiencies have been well documented including:  High administrative costs with 850 health insurance companies selling to millions of employers; high costs passed on to employees in rising contributions and lost wages with the burden weighing more heavily on low income employees; employees of small firms and the unemployed/underemployed left out of coverage; employment based insurance the major contributor to bankruptcies and poor labor relations; and finally a coverage system that discourages worker mobility and advancement. Together, these fatal flaws in a single sector of our society are bringing us to our economic knees.

Whether now or in the future, we will be forced to ask that simple question, “How do we make America (and Americans) healthy?” In responding, we will not be limited by resources. More than ample resources, currently misapplied, have already been dedicated to these services. We need only to recognize that health is not the absense of disease, and mirror Canada’s simple 2005 proclamation:  “As a nation, we aspire to a Canada in which every person is as healthy as they can be—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”


One Response to “The Simplification Movement in American Healthcare”

  1. Sadhana
    May 23rd, 2018 @ 6:16 am

    Very nicely written.
    I came across the newest and most appropriate solution for US healthcare is the Rule Engine

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