The Missing Link In Healthcare Reform Posted on 06:45PM (EDT) on 2008-06-07
I recently attended a half day conference, "Fighting Chronic Disease: The Missing Link In Health Care Reform" sponsored by Emory University and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD). It was an extremely well run event with an all-star political cast: Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Dr. Mark McClellan, and Nancy Johnson were present. The key medical players included Dr. Nancy Nielson, president-elect of the AMA, and Dr. Otis Brawley, CMO of the American Cancer Society.
The purpose of the conference was to raise awareness about the cost of chronic disease - it accounts for at least 75% of healthcare spending, and 80% of that could be avoided with lifestyle interventions. Shocking, isn't it? Any discussion of reducing medical costs needs to begin at ground zero - getting Americans to adopt healthy diet and exercise habits.
One of the most entertaining panelists was Chris Viehbacher, the president of North American Pharmaceuticals at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Chris is a gifted speaker with a charming Canadian accent - and could probably be the head of a debate team. We had the chance to speak about lobster fishing in Nova Scotia during one of the breaks since we share a common Maritime heritage. He offered some amusing analogies about our healthcare system, and made some points that bear repeating here:
"Half of the people in the US have some sort of chronic illness. Health insurance is like having car insurance when 50% of people are having accidents. Of course nobody can afford it."
"We need to keep employer-based healthcare because when employers have 'skin in the game' they have the incentive to promote healthy behavior at a local level. Monolithic government programs aren't good at influencing people at the individual level. Employers know each of their employees by name, they are invested in their lives, they provide childcare services and other benefits to them, and each employee's health affects their bottom line. Employers are a critical force for promoting and facilitating healthy behaviors."
"Alternative energy sources aren't that interesting when gas is $1/gallon. But when gas hits $4/gallon suddenly everyone is very interested in alternative energy. The same goes for healthcare. It takes a cost crisis to bring it to everyone's attention. And now the audience is listening."