Harvard prof touts advantages

By LUKE SHOCKMAN
TOLEDO BLADE STAFF WRITER
Article published Saturday, November 5, 2005

What if picking your doctor or hospital were like buying a car?

Maybe you'd sort through a Consumer Reports-like guide to see which doctor or hospital most reliably saves lives. Next to each hospital or doctor would also be a price.

 

Using this information, you would then make a decision on which doctor or hospital to choose. Evaluating quality and price is how a lot of transactions - from buying cars and DVD players to choosing a new coat or even a cheeseburger - work in America today.

 

It's not like that with health care. But maybe it should be, said Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard University business professor who spoke yesterday at the Medical University of Ohio. Her presentation was part of a discussion at MUO called: "Health Care Access, Delivery and Cost: Is the Status Quo Sustainable?"

 

The short answer to that discussion? No.

 

Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, MUO's president, said the "course we're on is not sustainable."

 

Health-care costs are soaring every year, and the number of Americans without health insurance - now about 45 million, which is more than the number of Americans on Medicare - continues to grow.

 

The situation is "almost at meltdown proportions," Dr. Jacobs said.
Politicians and the American public have ignored this problem for so long that the time for tinkering is over, he said, and it will soon take a massive intervention, likely by the government.

 

"It's too late for incremental steps. My fear is we're going to experience an upheaval. We'll see the bankruptcy of a large corporation like General Motors [partly because of rising health-care costs] … and we'll end up looking more like Canada," which has a single payer system, he said.

 

It doesn't have to be this way, Ms. Herzlinger said. Give patients information and direct control over their health-care dollars, and they'll do a better job at holding down health-care costs, she argued.

 

This theory, which is being embraced by many companies, is known as "consumer-driven" health care. Though businesses are trying to embrace this concept, it's been a struggle because of the lack of reliable information. "I know more about my car, tomato sauce, and panty hose than I do about the doctor or hospital who is about to perform a mastectomy on me," she said.

Ms. Herzlinger said she favors universal health-care coverage, but not a single payer system because it stifles competition. One major criticism of consumer-driven health care being a solution to rising costs is that it's no help to those who can't afford insurance in the first place. Ms. Herzlinger said she supports things like tax credits or other subsidies that would give all Americans access to insurance plans.

 

Some are still skeptical. Dr. Jacobs, for example, worries that while consumer-driven health care is a good idea, it's not a radical enough step given the sorry state of U.S. health care. Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association and another speaker at MUO's forum, is also skeptical.

 

He said the "structure of our health-care system is collapsing as we speak," and like it or not, a single payer system is on the way. "It won't happen in 2008 or 2010? Maybe. But it's going to happen."

 

Contact Luke Shockman at:
lshockman@theblade.com
or 419-724-6084.

 

Bullet Points for Legislators

  • Single Payer saves money.  For the past 20 years, states have commissioned studies on different types of health care systems.   In EVERY case, single payer was shown to be the only way to cover everyone and the only system that saved money and controlled costs.

  • Publicly financed does not mean government run health care.  YOU have publicly finance health coverage, but the government does not make decisions regarding your health care.

  • Cost conscious patients often don't get the care they need.   Most decisions are made by the doctor in concert with the patient, but the patient relies on the doctor's knowledge to make a decision.  Expensive tests and treatments cannot be ordered by the patient, only the doctor.

  • Lifestyle choices are not what is fueling high costs in health care.   The United States ranks low in general health indicators, but high in good health habits.  We smoke less, drink less and consume less animal fat that many other countries with better health indicators and much lower health care costs.

  • Businesses can accurately determine their health care costs and are not subject to unanticipated large premium increases.

  • It will reduce labor costs due to a more efficient way of financing health care, eliminating much wasteful administration.

  • Workers' Compensation costs will be reduced, likely by half, due to the fact that everyone has health coverage and there is no need for the medical portion.

  • It reduces the need for part time employees and provides easier recruiting.  There are no pre-existing conditions or Cobra issues.

  • Eliminates the oversight of health benefits and bargaining health coverage with employees.

  • It creates healthier personnel and more stable employees, reduces absenteeism and eliminates employer health coverage complaints.

  • It reduces employee health related debt and personal bankruptcies.

  • It frees up family income that can be spent on other goods and services, thus stimulating the economy.

Tips for Writing Letters to Editor

Follow guidelines for your local paper (word count, submission instructions, etc.)

Frame your letter in relation to a recent news item Use state specific data whenever possible (let us know if you need help finding some!)

Address counter arguments

Be aware of your audience and emphasize how Medicare for All is good for ALL residents of the state

Criticize other positions, not people Include your credentials (especially if you work in the healthcare field)

Avoid jargon and abbreviations

Don’t overload on statistics and minor details

Cover only one or two points in a single letter

Avoid rambling and vagueness

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