When Tommy Thompson scans the horizon, here's what he sees. "The next catastrophe." Thompson is former secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, former governor of Wisconsin, and former Republican presidential candidate. He held a conference call with Kenneth Thorpe, former deputy assistant secretary of policy at HHS under President Bill Clinton and now executive director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. "Healthcare has the potential of being the next calamity," Thompson said.
They're looking for bipartisan solutions to the healthcare mess, the main solution being to prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity in a U.S. population that is seeing epidemics in all three.
Those conditions stay with a person for a long time -- or until death -- once they hit, and chronic diseases eat up 75% of all healthcare costs. That's three-quarters of the total $2.2 trillion spent on healthcare in the United States. That comes to $1.65 trillion, if my online calculator serves me correctly.
That's more than two Wall Street bailouts.
America can't wait for another segment of the economy to collapse before doing something about it, they said. "There's some concern that given the current state of the economy, taking on healthcare might be too much, too big," said Thorpe. "I would argue the opposite. Failure to act on the issue of making healthcare more affordable is a recipe for disaster. This issue is too important to ignore. As wages slow down and the deficits rise, we've got to find places in the public budgets and in the private sector to make healthcare affordable for families and businesses."
They suggest some major redesigns of the system, including the efficiency of electronic medical records (which Thompson says should be government funded to speed up their implementation) and a team approach, using nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to prevent and control chronic illnesses.
It's too big an issue, they said, to be anything but bipartisan.