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Is It Time For a Space-Race Investment to Fix Health Care?

Partner, Health & Life Sciences Practice at Oliver Wyman

With health reform efforts in full swing in Washington, we must all acknowledge one reality: Whether sponsored by Republicans or Democrats, none of the health reform proposed to date has comprehensively addressed the fundamental flaws of our health care system.

Even employing some of the best medical personnel and cutting-edge technologies in the world, American health care falls below many other developed nations in terms of its overall results. That’s despite the fact that we pay more than any other nation on the planet. It also fails to provide its customers with simple facts (such as the cost of procedures) that other industries routinely provide so consumers can make informed choices. Even with these shortcomings, prices for services increase every year faster than the overall rate of inflation or wage hikes.

It’s time for the discussion to move beyond who is entitled access to care to how to create a transparent, efficient and affordable system that provides consistently good care to everyone.

President Donald Trump has said he wants to invest $1 trillion in America’s infrastructure. Health care, with its $3 trillion annual price tag, is in massive need of infrastructure investment. It’s as broken and crumbling as our bridges and highways. This generation’s space race should be a health care sprint.

Where to Invest in Health Care

How might the Trump administration invest in health care? President Trump could launch a federally sponsored contest with a $100 million prize for the scalable solution that most improves healthcare affordability. Or how about a grant-making organization like the National Institutes of Health that funds health care start-ups on the condition that they open-source their work? Innovative leaders from industries other than health care also must be part of this redesign to make sure the newest thinking throughout the business community is being employed.

The best way to make health care more affordable for everyone is simple: Keep people healthy.

Additionally, we need to change the way health care is financed in this country. Today, a health care system can issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of a new hospital, but can’t do the same to deploy a new technology or clinical innovation. Congress could change the Internal Revenue Code to permit such financing and immediately change how our non-profit health systems make investment decisions.

Next, we must turn to the health care labor force. The industry employs more than 10 percent of all working Americans, and in many communities, health care organizations are the single largest employer. Our health care providers, while passionate, dedicated, smart human beings, are trained to deliver a type of care in an outdated setting. We must move more of our care to less-costly outpatient settings and subsidize training for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who should become the face of primary care. We also need to face the reality that, for health care to be dramatically more affordable, far fewer people must be employed in health care. Well-designed job retraining programs to help health care workers move into other industries could make a big difference.

Finally, the best way to keep costs down and make health care more affordable for everyone might be the simplest: Keep people healthy. We have a system that mostly turns its attention to people when they are already sick. To get costs down, people need to be more engaged in their own health, before disease develops or when still in early stages. How can we do that when the system isn’t connecting with people until they are already beyond that point?

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans that we conducted, consumers talked about wanting after-hours telehealth consultations, access to wellness centers, health coaching and a social network of people facing similar health issues. These are all things that would connect them more closely to their own health and make health care operate more like other industries.

If we give people what they want, when and where they want it, we will help them manage their health, spend less on hospitals and doctors and drive down overall costs, all while investing in American economic growth. That’s a legislative outcome with which we could all be happy.

Sam Glick

Partner, Health & Life Sciences Practice at Oliver Wyman

Sam Glick is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Health & Life Sciences practice and the San Francisco office leader. He advises CEOs and boards of health care providers and insurers on how to build sustainable enterprises in the new health care environment.